Valley Sentinel Staff
As announced last week, American Players Theater has once again partnered with PBS Wisconsin to bring the second installment of their “Out of the Woods” series of play readings to a small screen near you. This series focuses on plays written by playwrights of color, and the readings include collaborations with artists and directors of color.
Visit the PBS Wisconsin Facebook page or pbswisconsin.org/apt at 7 p.m. each Friday from Nov. 6 to Nov. 20 to hear APT actors read a selection of plays.
Play readings are free to view online and on the free PBS app on your phone, tablet, other digital TV devices and smart TVs through Dec. 31.
Three Valley Sentinel interns were given the opportunity to preview “The Sins of Sor Juana.” Their reviews, lightly edited, are below —
The first release of this series explores faith and feminism as APT does their rendition of Karen Zacarías’ classic 1998 play, “The Sins of Sor Juana.”
Based on the real life poet and philosopher, who is often credited as being the first feminist writer of the Americas, Sor Juanna is a sharp-witted, proud woman who is not afraid to cause turbulence in the world around her. She challenges those trying to control her by writing about love, feminism, religion, and other topics not deemed “appropriate” for women of the 1600s.
Her story is told through the traditionally Latin-American style of magical realism, as her life seamlessly transitions from her past in the court, to her present in the convent, throughout the play.
Done completely through Zoom, this play utilizes its medium very uniquely. While not being in the same room, the actors are still able to perform very subtle character interactions that give the play a very real feel.
There is a price for being an intellectual woman. Why is it so hard to accept? What are the reasons behind a woman of intelligence being so terrifying?
Juana Inès de la Cruz, portrayed beautifully by Melisa Pereyra, is a poet, daring to contrast the beliefs of the Mexican Viceroy’s Court. Juana is an intellectual woman, a thinker, someone who dares to step out of the cage women are forced to endure. This makes her controversial, and therefore impossible to accept.
In the 1600s, the content of Juana’s poems are absolutely unacceptable for women to read. Her poems are full of feminism, religion, love and free-thought. And so, that makes them despicable.
However, the Vicereine, played by Cher Àlvarez, is strongly taken by Juana’s boldness to create such controversial pushback in the form of her poems, much to the disgust of the Viceroy, played by Triney Sandoval. The Vicereine arranges for Juana to stay on the Court, so, the Viceroy must plot. How dare a woman hold so much power?
Full of in-depth characters, a thick, thoughtfully woven plot and beautiful dialogue that engulfs the viewer, “The Sins of Sor Juana” touches the heart and soul in a starkly relevant way. The style of the play is capturing and real, the premise full of engaging visuals. The scenes are compelling, mixing a dark topic with some faint lightheartedness, making it feel all the more relevant. Told through the view of the court and the convent, we are able to see the struggle Juana must face – the struggles many women have faced.
This past week, I was provided the opportunity to watch APT’s performance of Karen Zacarías’ play “The Sins of Sor Juana”. Mediated through Zoom, Zacaría’s characters jump through the screen, portrayed by the incredible all-Latinx cast, many portraying multiple roles to bring this work to life.
The story follows a pieced-together biography of one of the first American feminists, Juana Inés de la Cruz. As a woman in the late 17th century in the recently colonized Mexíco, Juana had to fight both tradition and religious pressure in order to pursue her life’s passion—poetry.
While this is undoubtedly a new format for these performers, the cast expertly handled the new challenge. Filling Zoom windows instead of a stage, they are still able to bring the lively energy that so many of us have been yearning for over these past months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time of great personal dissociation, the actors provide us with an opportunity to not only connect with them, but also with the characters they portray. While most of the cast afterwards state they were unfamiliar with the work of de la Cruz prior to this play, the Q&A following the performance showed that they had all been touched by her work and her story.
The actresses in particular spoke to how they, as female artists, were inspired by her perseverance and strength, even when it seemed as though she had no allies.
Through the process of pondering just what exactly makes “a classic”, APT is turning their focus specifically on voices of Black, Indigenous, or people of color for this series, through both the playwright and performers.
American Players Theatre’s rendition of “The Sins of Sor Juana” will be made available for viewing online and on TV to the general public on Friday, Nov. 6, 7:00 pm CT. This performance will be followed by Nathan Alan Davis’ “Nat Turner in Jerusalem” and Lydia R. Diamond’s “Smart People” on November 13th and 20th respectively, all performances will be available to stream for free at pbswisconsin.org/apt.
Look for our full review of “The Sins of Sor Juana” in next week’s Valley Sentinel, as well as a preview of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem.”