“The Sins of Sor Juana”, a moving drama about a defiant nun and poet highlights the fifth biennial Latino Theatre Festival at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre.
So what were her sins?
Perhaps the secular poems this prolific 17th century Mexican woman wrote — though she remarked that the Bible’s “Song of Songs” contained far racier verses. Or perhaps that she disagreed with a bishop who forbade the education of women and told him so?
The luminous Malaya Rivera Drew plays Juana, a beautiful girl with a superior mind. After a brief life at court she finds a haven in a convent where she can study the writers of antiquity and express her God-given literary talent.
Drew sparkles in this role, bringing energy and charm to the young girl and intensity and power to the nun she has become.
The real Sor Juana is so revered in Mexico that her face is on a 200 peso note and school children memorize her poetry. The character on stage is the creation of playwright Karen Zacarias, who deftly blends historical facts with richly imagined situations, including a passionate, but doomed romance for the young Juana. Her lover is the handsome Silvio, played with sensitivity by Dion Mucciacita.
Zacarias also accesses a vein of Latin American magical realism with the character of the maid/duenna Xochiti, played with whimsey and wisdom by Laura Crotte.
Christina Nieves is a ray of sunshine as the innocent Novice, and Amy J. Carle is appropriately creepy as the Vicereine, who schemes to keep young Juana close to her at court by marrying her off.
Tony Plana is over the top as the priest Padre Nunez, who must tell Sor Juana that her letter to the bishop is bringing the Inquisition down upon them. He appears much more comfortable as the slightly comic Viceroy, sparring with his inept courtier Don Pedro, played for belly laughs by Joe Minoso.
So what were Sor Juana’s sins? This depends upon your definition of sin, but one of them certainly was finally yielding to the pressure to stop writing, thereby denying the gifts that were so obviously hers.
“The Sins of Sor Juana” runs through July 25 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. Tickets run between $71 and $20. Call (312) 443-3800 or visit GoodmanTheatre.org. Theatergoers receive a discounted parking rate of $19 (instead of $30) at the Government Center parking garage around the corner on Lake Street.