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Henry Godinez to Direct `The Sins of Sor Juana' Jan. 30 to Feb. 8

Performances of "The Sins of Sor Juana" are scheduled to begin on Friday, Jan. 30.

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January 6, 2009 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In his new role as artistic director of the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University, Henry Godinez will direct Karen Zacarías' compelling drama about a 17th century poet-nun and her quest for artistic freedom and social equality as the third production of the TIC 2008-09 mainstage season.

Performances of "The Sins of Sor Juana" are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30; 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1; 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, on the University's Evanston campus.

Set in Mexico, "The Sins of Sor Juana" is the story of a woman trapped in two different worlds -- a cold and austere convent and the opulent and colorful royal court. Under the direction of Godinez, this historic fantasy of self-determination and self-expression demonstrates how Sor Juana's will and need to write impacts not only her contemporaries, but also influences the future of Latin American literature and society.

"Sor Juana is an amazing character because her struggles are the struggles of all human beings who are ahead of their time and who are compelled to express themselves in societies and environments that will not embrace them," said Godinez. "Even if she were alive today, she would have faced challenges. She was a revolutionary individual who refused to be contained by any religious or social boundaries because her need to explore went beyond any framework that existed. She was fiercely independent and endlessly curious, to the point where she just did not fit in that time and place."

An icon to people in Central and South America for the cultural significance of her writing, Sor (Sister) Juana Inez de la Cruz, was born in Mexico in 1648. She was one of the first published poets of the Americas, a member of a Mexican convent and also known for her plays and letters. The folklore that surrounds her life – including rumors of a man, of a failed love – also enshrouds her death, as it is believed that she died at the age of 40 as a result of the Church's demand for her silence and her vow to never write again.

"The Church was opposed to Sor Juana because she was a nun writing works that expressed a female's sensuality," said Godinez. "She was a firm believer that women should be educated, which was very rare in 17th century Mexico. Since she was a champion of education for women, it threatened the system. Mexico and Spain were not female-oriented societies at that time. The Church felt that her writing was erotic and indecent. It was expected that if you were in the Church, you would only be writing to praise God. This is a passionate and inspirational play by a celebrated female author with great roles for female actors. I'm very excited that my first time directing on the TIC mainstage represents an opportunity to share with our audiences and students the story of a woman who is so significant in Latin American history and culture, yet known to very few outside of Latin America."

The framework of the Winter 2009 stage production combines historical facts with some fiction. Playwright Zaracías used her imagination as to what might have happened to personalize Sor Juana and show her humanity and feelings of being trapped in a society that did not value a woman's right to an education. The two-act play will feature a 12-member cast of Northwestern undergraduate students.

All of the stage sets and most of the costumes have been designed and constructed on the University's Evanston campus. Lighting will create mood and atmosphere and serve to focus on specific areas on stage. One stunning set will be dominated by a span of three rows of columns to create the sense and perspective of a church.

The lush, but austere black and white court costumes were inspired by the artwork of the great Spanish painter Diego Velásquez (1599 to 1660), while the majority of nun's simple habits are white and also historically correct for the period.

The Baroque Mass and Gregorian chants influenced the background music composed specifically for the production by Argentinean composer and Loyola University head of music composition Gustavo Leone. Godinez and Leone met at Columbia College, where they both once taught. Leone's music is his interpretation of the dynamics and spirit of Zaracías' play. It sets the tone, period and atmosphere of the play and is used for transitions and for underscoring the dialogue.

"The Sins of Sor Juana" is suitable for high school-age students and adults. Single tickets are $20 for the general public; $18 for seniors 65 and older, Northwestern staff and faculty and area teachers and administrators; and $10 for full-time students with valid IDs. Tickets are available through the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or http://www.tic.northwestern.edu.