Librettist: Peter M. Krask
At: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tickets: ThirdEyeTe.com; $25 in advance. Runs through: Nov. 5
Third Eye Theatre Ensemble's With Blood, With Ink tells the story of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a poet and nun from Mexico's colonial period. She loved books and was a feminist who was way ahead of her time. She even asked to disguise herself as a male student to attend university. When her parents refused, she joined a convent to pursue education another way.
Daniel Crozier's version of her story continues Third Eye's trend of exploring spirituality. This hour-and-a-half show ( with no intermission ) begins with a staged reading of one of Juana's poems read in Spanish by a local outsider. That choice felt like a reverent way to capture the audience's attention put them in the right frame of mind.
The lights come down with a focus on Juana's deathbed telling her tale in flashback form. She has caught the plague after caring for her fellow sisters and is remembering her past.
Sister Juana was a rumored lesbian and wrote some suggestive poetry in that vein. She was inspired by her friendship with Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes; they are depicted in this show as being quite affectionate toward each other.
Rose Freeman is the lesbian director who felt drawn to the material and backstory personally. In the program she writes a heartfelt story of coming out during confession.
The regional premiere of With Blood, With Ink does not have much humor and really grows heavy by the end. It is a sad story in many ways, but her joy of learning that was such a big part of her journey is not shown enough.
A rotating cast keeps the audience and performers on their toes. This also cuts out having a lot of unused understudies and encourages ticket buyers to return to see a completely different cast perform.
Pianist and musical director Jason Carlson is so talented that it's almost distracting with him being right in front. Unfortunately, the songs don't leave the lasting impression that they need.
Opera is a tough sell for young audiences and this one is not innovative enough to break that trend. Third Eye should amp things up and not be scared to try mixing media. Lookingglass Theatre Company would be a good inspiration for them with classic stories that think outside of the box. Having both the sick and healthy de la Cruz onstage at the same time singing duets is a step in the right direction, but they need to turn up the volume.
This 17th-century nun is a perfect person for a muse with a captivating true story. Juana is on a roll thanks to last year's television series titled Juana Ines now available on Netflix.
de la Cruz has inspired many artists as well as this troupe so hopefully "The Phoenix of America" will rise again in another depiction soon. We can still learn a lot from a curious mind who wasn't afraid to question authority.