In a post Mel Brooks, post Monty Python world, is it still possible to write a serious play about the Spanish Inquisition?
First, the backstory.
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (b. 1651), known as “The Tenth Muse”, was an actual poet, playwright, and nun in 16th century Mexico (New Spain). The illegitimate daughter of a Spanish Captain, Sor Juana was born near Mexico City and learned to read and write by the age of three. Reading was forbidden for girls, so Sor Juana early on showed a propensity for the kind of intelligence and anti authoritarian balls that would later land her in hot water with cheerless officials down at the Catholic church’s HQ.
A brilliant student, Sor Juana swam heavily upstream against the male dominated world of her era, at one point attempting to pass as a man (unsuccessfully) to be able to advance her own studies in Mexico City. At the age of 17, she joined a monastery of Hieronymite nuns. Clearly not one to cave in easily, Sor Juana started to advocate for the rights of women to an education, an apparent blasphemy that brought censure from the Archbishop of Mexico. In 1693, to avoid further problems (or going on the rack), Sor Juana stopped writing. She died in a plague on April 17, 1695.
If this broad story line sounds like it could be played as a fast-paced, over the top farce by cross-dressed men a la Monty Python, it definitely could. And how well Tanya Saracho’s earnest world premiere play about colonial Mexico in 1715 works for you will depend in no small part on your ability to completely block out, for at least two acts, the repertoire of Messrs Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Chapman, Jones, Palin – and Mel Brooks.