The 'Sins of Sor Juana,' the feminism of a visionary poet
The convent became the refuge of a woman who loved books above all else. Sins of Sor Juana tells her dramatized story.
The life of the 17th century Mexican poet and nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, is as fascinating and hypnotic as her verse. It is known that she was the daughter of a Creole and a Spanish captain, who studied in her grandfather's library because education was forbidden to women and began to read and write at the age three. By eight, she had already written her first Eucharistic loa and learned Latin in only 20 lessons.
Because she had an intelligence that stood out from the rest, she was appointed maid of honor of the wife of the Viceroy of Toledo, but Ines did not aspire to become the devoted woman of a good match on the Court and entered a convent of the Order of Saint Jerome to flee from her destiny.
Did she really have a religious vocation, or was she looking for a place where she could freely continue her studies and readings? According to the writer Octavio Paz, Sister Juana became a nun to think.
Her iconic stature has become an inspiration for women, facing more than three centuries of strict morality and the objectification of women in her time. Her sober self became a meeting point for writers, poets, and philosophers of the time, weaving in writing what would be the cornerstone of a proto-feminism in the West and defending tooth-and-nail women's rights to education:
"Foolish men who accuse
to the woman without reason
without seeing that you are the occasion
of the same thing that you blame..."
While her work and story are not well known, PBS Wisconsin and the American Players Theatre (APT) introduced Sor Juana as part of "Out of the Wood," a November series of play readings that has given voice to playwrights, directors, and actors of color.
Written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Jake Penner, Sins of Sor Juana is a superb recreation of the life of a religious figure who defied the conventions of her time. It was a production from the 2010 season at the Goodman Theatre where love, politics, and even sex meet. Zacarias covered it all with a wonderful patina of magical realism that makes us go from drama to humor and sometimes, forcing us to meditate on the words of Sor Juana.
The play begins when the nun, played by the actress Melisa Pereyra, sends a letter to the new bishop assuring that "God wants women to learn." At the same time, she faces a controversy for the publication of some poems and sonnets to the displeasure of the authorities of the convent where she has taken refuge after rejecting Fabio de la Vicerina as her husband.
One of the most interesting and complex aspects of the virtual theater format, which will most likely mark the future of the art, form is that indications must be given for the stage with explanations of the staging and each actor must be highlighted on-screen when he or she appears in the play. The dynamic challenges the imagination and introduces the spectator to the script itself, bringing us closer to the structural complexity of the work.
Undoubtedly, both this challenge of dramatized reading and PBS Wisconsin's commitment to the works and creators of BIPOC could mark a before and after of the art form and provide a platform for the stories and artists who still remain invisible through a curtain of stereotypes.