Centuries of emotional and creative oppression are explored during this brief (50 minutes) excursion into the synergistic psychic co-mingling of acclaimed 17th century nun Sor Juana Inez de las Cruz (Rose Portillo) and Barbara (Diane Robinson), a totally repressed Realtor living in present-day Phoenix. Playwrights Theresa Chavez, Alan Pulner and Portillo, complimented greatly by the video infusion of Janice Tanaka, the insightful staging of B.J. Dodge and a superb ensemble, have made tangible the monumental struggle that one must go through to discover and maintain the deeply submerged inner voice that is the essence of his or her uniqueness.
Living in Mexico during the early years of Spanish colonialism in the Americas, Sor Juana was a child of genius who became a nun only to have a safe harbor for her creativity. Her subsequent pursuits in poetry, science, music, architecture and theater earned her great renown, as she was proclaimed by her intellectual peers to be “the 10th muse” and the “Phoenix of the Americas.” But her pursuits, which included writing the seminal “La Respuesta” (a plea for the social emancipation of women), also led to her eventual subjugation by the church hierarchy.
In an effort to escape her oppression, Sor Juana’s subconscious floats in a dreamscape into the world of Barbara, a monumentally anal-retentive real estate broker who must follow a pre-determined list of activities in order to survive her day. When a wrong turn on the way home causes Barbara to break the pattern of her rigid existence, the very fabric of her sanity begins to unravel.
Soon, Barbara has united with Sor Juana in a painstaking and painful voyage into the depths of their mutual psyches. Intruding into both their lives are the very vocal masculine demands of Sor Juana’s clerical tormentor Miranda and Barbara’s harried pool salesman husband Tom, both played by Clay Wilcox.
Portillo and Robinson create an intriguing rapport, developing a bond that is communicated more with body language than with words. It is fascinating to watch Portillo’s Sor Juana utilize a flour-dusted table and a spinning top to communicate to Barbara why it is impossible to regulate one’s soul or one’s life. And it is equally rewarding to observe Robinson’s Barbara as her face slowly becomes illuminated as she grasps the meaning of the constantly evolving, uncontrolled patterns the spinning top makes in the flour.
Wilcox flows adroitly between his two characters but is given much more character to work with in the contemporary persona of Tom. He is quite believable as the working stiff caught totally off balance by the change he observes in his wife. Miranda exists mostly as a one-note harangue whose only purpose is to drive Sor Juana into her surrealistic time travel.
“Properties of Silence” is the third play in About Productions’ exploration into the theme of silence. (“Vox” and “Memory Bites” were produced in 1998.) The company is maintaining a laudatory standard in its mission to create “original interdisciplinary theater work that provokes new perspectives on history and humanity.”