The Defiant Muse
The Defiant Muse should be good. As it turns out, Victory Gardens’ premiere of Patricca’s fulsome and leaden-handed play is just good for you. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a poet, scholar, courtier and nun in 17th-century colonial Mexico, an iconoclast whose convent cell was a salon for Mexico City’s intelligentsia, and whose visage now adorns the Mexican 1,000-peso banknote. But here, she’s a potentially inspiring character trapped in an unimaginative play. Patricca’s many and varied machinations to commemorate her brilliance become just that—a commemoration, and a turgid and scholastic one at that.
Dymond’s by-the-numbers direction can’t rescue the play from its excesses. Sor Juana, when not addressing the audience, or studying the stars through Galileo’s own telescope, or embroiled in predictable clashes and clinches with her supporters and enemies, intellectually and physically spars with Don Juan—yes, the legendary fictional character who not only serves as her alter ego, conscience and muse, but also plays a starring role in the play she’s writing about him. The Baroque playlets-within-the-play, while providing a good excuse for more characters to sport Judith Lundberg’s exquisite costumes, remove us further from the heroine-character that Tejero works mightily and meticulously to enliven. Too bad she didn’t have a better, less pedantic play to help her use her formidable skills (along with the sparkling finesse of Alden as her confidante and the first lady of colonial Mexico) to reveal to us the real woman.