Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why The Sins of Sor Juana?

Posted by Artistic Director Robert Falls

Although she is relatively unknown to non-Spanish-speaking readers, Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the most compelling figures in all of Spanish literature, and one of the most revered authors in the development of Mexican culture. A self-taught Latin scholar, and a talented writer and musician, Juana was sent at a young age from the small village of San Miguel Nepantla to Mexico City, where her intellectual prowess (and her reputed beauty) attracted the patronage of the wife of the viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo.

Although Juana thrived at the palace, the conventions of her time forced her to enter a religious order to further pursue her intellectual interests. She took the name Sor Juana and spent an uncomfortable time with the ascetic Carmelites, then joined the more welcoming Hieronymites, with whom she flourished. Sor Juana wrote poetry and treatises which eloquently defended the study of science and the education of women. Though these compositions are now considered to be among the most important in the Golden Age of Spanish literature, her work offended the church hierarchy. Abandoned by her powerful mentors, she ultimately withdrew from her literary pursuits, sequestered herself in an isolated room in the convent and took to writing religious vows in her own blood, signing them “Juana, the worst of all.” At the age of 46, she perished in a cholera epidemic, her work largely ignored by her contemporaries.

The story of this remarkable woman has spawned an equally remarkable play, Karen Zacarías’ The Sins of Sor Juana. Far from a standard docudrama, Zacarías has reimagined the life and work of Sor Juana in a soaring dramatic celebration, filled with the passion, wit, romance and rigorous intellect that has made Sor Juana a true legend. Guiding this production will be Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez, a longtime champion of this play, who memorably directed the Goodman world premiere of Zacarías’ Mariela in the Desert. Henry has chosen The Sins of Sor Juana to be the centerpiece of our 5th Latino Theatre Festival, which commemorates the bicentennial of Mexican Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution with a series of readings, presentations by local Latino theater companies and special events at Millennium Park as well as at the Goodman. This festival will feature another landmark event: the U.S. premiere of Cuba’s celebrated Teatro Buendía, which has received praise around the world for its disciplined, highly physical theatrical style.

The Sins of Sor Juana and the Latino Theatre Festival provide a multifaceted ending to a Goodman season that is notable, I think, for its range and variety—from the delights of Animal Crackers to the searing insights of Eugene O’Neill and Samuel Beckett, and featuring distinguished new plays by Dael Orlandersmith, Brett C. Leonard and Rebecca Gilman. As with all of our work at Goodman Theatre, I hope that you have found productions that have challenged you, provoked you and entertained you. As always, we thank you for your support and patronage—and we look forward to seeing you next season.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director

We hope you are as excited as we are about The Sins of Sor Juana! Please share your questions and comments with us, below.