The Collaborative Reading of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s House of Desires is tonight! Don’t miss out! Check out one of Sor Juana’s poems, in the original Spanish, below.
En perseguirme, Mundo, ¿qué interesas? ¿En qué te ofendo, cuando sólo intento poner bellezas en mi entendimiento
y no mi entendimiento en las bellezas?
Yo no estimo tesoros ni riquezas;
y así, siempre me causa más contento poner riquezas en mi pensamiento
que no mi pensamiento en las riquezas.
Y no estimo hermosura que, vencida, es despojo civil de las edades,
ni riqueza me agrada fementida,
teniendo por mejor, en mis verdades, consumir vanidades de la vida
que consumir la vida en vanidades.
Sor Juana left her first convent after a short time to join the Order of St. Jerome. There she spent the second half of her life and did most of her writing which included poetry, plays, and essays, both secular and nonsecular. One of her most famous pieces is her ‘Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz.’ The letter is a response to sister ‘Filotea’—a fictional nun created by a man who criticized Sor Juana’s work as immoral. Sor Juana’s response championed women’s right to learning and defended her secular works. Soon after, however, Sor Juana gave up secular writing and rededicated herself to religious life. She died in 1695 after having nursed her fellow sisters suffering from the plague.
Sor Juana was regarded as an intellectual prodigy when she entered the court of the Marquise de Mancera, the viceroy of New Spain, at age 16. She served as a handmaiden to the Marquise’s wife, Leonor Carreto. Sor Juana was a reputed beauty. Some say she had her share of marriage offers, while others believe she was not an eligible candidate for marriage due to her illegitimacy. Sor Juana continued to impress the court—male and female alike—with her intelligence and education. At age 20, she left court unmarried to join a convent.
Sor Juana had a somewhat scandalous beginning, being the child of a soldier and daughter of a landowner, who were unmarried. Sor Juana was dedicated to study at an extremely early age and was said to have been able to read her native Spanish and study Latin by the age of six. In her youth she proposed to her mother that she wear men’s clothing and disguise herself in order to attend school. When this request was denied Juana instead continued her rigorous education of herself which included severe self-inflicted punishments for failing to meet her study goals. Talk about teenage drama!
Our playwright of the month is Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Sor Juana lived in 17th century New Spain. She spent most of her life in the area in and surrounding Mexico City. Mexico was under Spanish rule and presided over by the viceroy of New Spain. Today Sor Juana is featured on the 200 peso note in Mexico.
“The discordant sounds of war that had long grated the ears of the children of America were now suspended, and the benign and heavenly voice of harmony soothed their wounded feelings, and they flattered themselves the dread summons to slaughter and death would not again resound on their shores.”
— Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution
Thanks to everyone who came to the reading on last Saturday!
More information on Mercy Otis Warren can be found from these sources:
Richard Seltzer, who provided the transcript for our reading (many thanks!) provides full texts of many of Warren’s plays and her history of the American Revolution. Additionally he provides useful links and quick references about Warren’s life.
“History is not the province of the ladies.” —John Adams
Adams allegedly wrote this after being dissatisfied with the characterization of him by Mercy Otis Warren in her History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. No wonder he was peeved after remarks such as this: “After Mr. Adam’s return from England, he was implicated by a large portion of his countrymen as having relinquished the republican system, and forgotten the principles of the American Revolution, which he had advocated for near twenty years.” Burn, indeed. Though they had previously been close friends the publishing of this history led to a great rift between Warren and Adams. It is unclear whether this feud was resolved before Warren’s death in 1814.
Did you know?… Our playwright of the month, Mercy Otis Warren, wrote one of the early historical accounts of the American Revolution. See Mercy’s merciless guilt trip below.
“The inhabitants of America cease to look back with due gratitude and respect on the fortitude and virtue of their ancestors, who, through difficulties almost insurmountable, planted them in a happy soil. But the historian and the philosopher will ever venerate the memory of those pious and independent gentlemen, who, after suffering innumerable impositions, restrictions, and penalties, less for political, than theological opinions, left England, not as adventurers for wealth or fame, but for the quiet enjoyment of religion and liberty.” —History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution by Mercy Otis Warren
We are so excited to be showcasing the work of Mercy Otis Warren at our next Classically Forgotten reading on July 7.
While revolutionary women such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington and Betsy Ross are usually highlighted in U.S. history Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) has been largely overlooked. Living in Massachusetts, Warren was witness to and actively involved in the political climate preceding, during, and following the American War for Independence.
Warren came from a large family and was extremely close to her brother, James Otis, who was an important political figure in his own right. Remember that phrase from U.S. history class — “Taxation without representation is tyranny?” Mercy’s big brother.
In 1754 she married James Warren, who was also involved in politics. By the 1770s Mercy Otis Warren was writing political propaganda plays advocating the righteousness of the American cause and vilifying the British troops and the monarchy. And by vilify I mean make them look as ridiculous as possible.
She was also a prolific poet and corresponded with most of the key figures of the Revolution throughout her life. Some even go so far as to label her as a consultant for the foundations of the new government.
You can check out the works of this fascinating founding mother this Saturday with your friends at Bent Quill!
Why did you want to direct “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”?
I was handed this script this summer and found myself laughing hysterically after reading the first page. I do not consider myself lacking in a sense of humor but it’s very difficult for me to find a play that, while reading it silently, will move me to laugh out loud. “Doctor” did and continued to throughout the rest of the play. Moliere combines slapstick, commedia style characters, and biting social commentary to produce easily one of the funniest shows I have ever read.
The exciting challenge of “Doctor” is that, while much of the humor is contained in the script, there is plenty of room for collaboration with the actors and the designers. Every aspect of the play can be humorous, from over-sized props to elaborate, cartoonish chase scenes. Everyone’s creative involvement is necessary and benefits everyone else. This is ironic seeing that the play revolves around an idea of placing self-interest first, but I truly believe that this show cannot achieve its maximum potential without strong, creative, and positive collaboration.
What is your history with this show?
I directed a shortened version of this show this summer and had very little time to do it (roughly a week). I realized very quickly that, while our progress was fantastic for the time we were given, the play could achieve so much more. I found myself wanting to re-visit the play immediately. Bent Quill provided this opportunity.
Which character in “Doctor” do you most identify with?
I would like to believe that I most identify with Jacqueline, Lucinde’s maid. She is the sole voice of reason in the play and if anyone listened to her they would save a lot of money and prevent a lot of unhappiness. Unfortunately for her, society does not operate in such an enlightened way.
But the truth is, I’m probably more like Leandre, the long-winded, lovesick romantic who revels in his misery.
How do you prepare for auditions? What do you look for in an actor who will be part of your cast?
I read the play. As many times as possible. The best way to be prepared for an audition is to know what you’re looking for. This is not to say that I have a set idea of “type” but instead some basic concepts of how I want the character to be portrayed. For instance, Geronte, the father, has to be strong-willed and commanding. What that ends up looking like is part of the excitement of auditions.
I look for actors who make strong choices and have good ears. I generally allow actors to read a scene first and then give them a little bit of direction to see how they respond. I’m not interested in whether or not they make the “right” choices (in fact, I don’t know if I even believe in “right” choices), rather strong choices that are rooted in my direction. Also, I’m not interested in working with passive actors who succumb to the director. I want actors to challenge me, present ideas, and add to the collaboration.
Is there anything about Moliere, “Doctor”, or 17-century France that you think contemporary audiences will really connect with?
I was recently talking to my mom about the resurgence of Moliere’s plays and she told me about a conversation that she had had with a friend. The friend theorized that Moliere’s recent revival had to do with the popularity of Jon Stewart. I found this remarkably apt seeing they both approach massive societal problems with biting humor. I believe very strongly that change has to be positive and sometimes the only way to view problems is to make light of them.
“Doctor” is obviously commenting on the medical profession (did someone mention health care?) and while I don’t agree whole-heartedly with Moliere’s view on Doctors, I believe that he is speaking to us about the difference between selfishness and selflessness and this is at the base of the health care crisis in America. The frightening part is that if these problems were relevant in 17th Century France and they’re still relevant today, we still have a lot of work to do.
What do you like most about directing?
The collaboration. A director is nothing without a script, actors and a design team and it’s the director’s role to band them all together to tell a story. My favorite moments are when choices are made that I hadn’t even considered. I feel that this can only occur when I’m doing my job well, providing enough basis so the choices are grounded but stepping back enough to allow the choices to be discovered.
What do you do when you’re not directing?
Pour coffee, teach little kids how to use their imaginations, play tons of Scrabble, practice guitar, and, if I’m good to myself, sleep.
What does ‘Bent Quill’ mean?
The end of a writing utensil that has been curved from a straight position. But honestly, to me, Bent Quill means hope. Their mission of providing classical theatre in a modern context for little to no cost to the audience helps cultivate a new generation of theatre-goers. Theatre can be elitist, expensive, and way too self-involved. By taking the classics and, hopefully, doing them justice, we can work on making theatre universal again. Bent Quill means that.
Welcome to our new website! We hope this space will serve as a place for updates on our projects as well as for archives of projects passed. Watch this space as we start to roll out our archive for The Busybody, background for A Doctor in Spite of Himself, and more.
We wanted to give a quick update on how things are going with our upcoming production of A Doctor in Spite of Himself. We were so happy when Eli Taylor approached us to direct this Molière play, and are just now beginning to assemble the crew for the show. We’ll announce more about auditions and the production here in the coming weeks.
A few weeks ago, we started our campaign to raise funds for the production, and couldn’t be happier with the results so far. Lots of swell folks have been pledging money over at Kickstarter, and we are now over half-way to our goal, which is wonderful. We are so grateful to our backers for helping to make this production possible.
Any of you holding out, now’s as good a time as any to head over and make a pledge.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for our inaugural production, “The Busybody.” Over the course of our 5 performances we were happy to entertain over 130 people! Our audience was quite diverse and included friends, donors, free theatergoers, neighbors to Fort Tryon Park, kids, adults, families, dogs, and gophers who joined us both for performances and some of our rehearsals.
Our production received a lovely review from Richard Grayson, who provided some background information as well as his thoughts on the show on his blog, Dumbo Books of Brooklyn.
We are thrilled with the production and the response we received from our audiences. We had a number of theatergoers stop us after the shows to let us know how much they enjoyed the production. All your kind words and generous donations mean the world to us. We are so glad that “The Busybody” connected with and interested our community.
We want to say thank you again to all of you who donated, attended the production, and provided support along the way. Additional thanks go out to the beautiful neighborhood of Washington Heights, the regulars in Fort Tryon Park, and the powers that be for only raining us out once.
So, what’s next for The Bent Quill Players? Stay tuned to find out. If you want to join our mailing list for updates, please contact us here.
1709 marked the premiere of “The Busybody” by Susanna Centlivre at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane in London. Centlivre’s play came at a time when society was just getting used to the idea of celebrity. With the reopening of the playhouses, under Charles II, a new era in theater began. From that point forward, actors and actresses such as Thomas Betterton, Elizabeth Barry, Ann Bracegirdle and the notorious Nell Gwynn, were becoming recognized not only for their talent but also for their (hopefully) scandalous personal lives.
The darlings of the stage were not the only ones to be victims of public interest. In early 18th-century London gossip was a well known activity. While today we might get our gossip from friends, text, Twitter, Facebook, or even E! News or People magazine, at that particular point word of mouth was paramount. Newspapers were distributed in the local coffee houses and they did include gossip columns. However, the gossip would not get into or out of the papers without the help of dedicated citizens indulging in the current scandal. It was natural to discuss what your friend wore out in the park, which servants were misbehaving, or which neighbor exhibited indiscreet behavior in public.
The action of “The Busybody” opens in St. James Park, a veritable hotbed of social activity and juicy gossip. It is here that we meet Charles, in want of money, and Sir George Airy, in want of a woman. Next is Miranda, seeking respite from the wandering hands of her guardian; and the faithful and self proclaimed ingenious servant, Patch. Wandering onto the scene is the aforementioned guardian, Sir Francis Gripe, in possession of money, but never satisfied until he has more. The social centrality of the park is emphasized by the character appearances in this first act. The audience meets everyone except the closeted Isabinda, practically imprisoned in her room; and her father, Sir Jealous Traffick, who trusts no English person to have a good influence on his child.
Thrown in amongst these lovers, guardians and servants is Marplot, the so-called “Busybody” of Centlivre’s play. He is described as “a sort of a silly Fellow, Cowardly, but very inquisitive to know every Body’s Business.” Marplot is just the sort of character you can’t help but love. Wanting to know everything about everybody, Marplot is tragically never able to put two and two together. Yet, he is not the only one who complicates life with his inquisitiveness. All the characters suffer from a mischievousness which causes them to be chased into or out of closets, to constantly be sent to help a friend in their latest scheme, or to be deprived of their goal because they were too involved in another person’s activities to notice the deception in front of them. In a society such as this (or such as our own for that matter) the question is “who isn’t the Busybody?”
“The Busybody” opens August 20th in Fort Tryon Park
- Centlivre, Susanna. The Busie Bodie. Memphis: General Books, 2010.
- Hutton, Ronald. The Restoration: A political and religious history of England and Wales, 1658-1667. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.
- Kreis-Schinck, Annette. Women, Writing, and the Theater in the Early Modern Period: The Plays of Aphra Behn and Suzanne Centlivre. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.
- Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys. Richard Le Gallienne, ed. New York: The Modern Library, 2001.
- Spurr, John. England in the 1670s: “This Masquerading Age.” Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.
- Waller, Maureen. 1700: Scenes from London Life. New York: Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2000.