A review of “Properties of Silence” at Carrie Hamilton Theater.
By Carol Edger Germain
In “Properties of Silence,” an actual historical figure, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century nun (played by Rose Portillo), and Barbara (played by Elizabeth Rainey), a fictional present-day real estate agent in Phoenix married to Tom, a swimming pool contractor, meet in a dream to express their disappointment and frustration in the world’s ability to allow them unlimited access to the avenues of expression and knowledge they need to fulfill their hearts, minds, and souls.
The themes of thirst, fever, contracts and repression are repeated throughout the play, with striking symbolic images reinforcing those themes (such as the real images presented by a huge refrigerator filled with nothing but bottles of water and a shower pouring sand, Barbara’s increasing fever and need to shed her clothes, and spoken images such as the description of building a pool by Barbara, “You dig and dig to fill a man-made hole with water”). Sor Juana’s thirst for scientific knowledge and desire to express herself in poetry and other writings is repeatedly stifled by the Catholic Church in the form of her aggressive Jesuit confessor, Antonio de Miranda, who urges her to put down her pen, quite wasting her time with science, and show obedience, and Barbara is stifled by the disconnect with her husband and her dawning realization that the agreements she has made in her life do not meet the needs of her inner voice. Kevin Sifuentes does an admirable job playing both Miranda and Tom, two very different men from different centuries.
When Barbara turns on the TV, a film about Sor Juana’s life is playing, and later, in a feverish state, she discovers that Sor Juana is in the room with her, their thoughts are shared and the the two centuries are brought together, with some light moments as well as some deeply thought-provoking comparisons.
The play does not really reach any conclusion, but I don’t feel it was meant to, it was meant to leave the audience’s minds thirsty for more consideration of the issues and images presented. And we immediately got more – there is a salon series immediately following the play (do not leave after the play, the salon series is as stimulating as the play). On the night I attended, three women performed their poetry (Red Hen Press poets Nicelle Davis, Laurel Ann Bogen, and Amy Uyematsu), which quenched my thirst at the moment, but left me thirsty to read and hear more of their work. It was a stimulating evening.
The play was produced by About…Productions, and you can see a list of the Post-Silence salon series events at their website, so if you intend to see the play, you can perhaps pick a night with the salon that most interests you.
I’ve found that although everyone in Pasadena knows about the Pasadena Playhouse, many seem to be unaware of the small Carrier Hamilton Theater upstairs from the courtyard. I’ve been to a number of productions there and they have all been unique like “Properties of Silence.” I urge you to keep an eye on their schedule and try to attend their shows as well as the major productions at the Playhouse.
Properties of Silence Written by Theresa Chavez, Rose Portillo and Alan Pulner. Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 91101 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 29. Running time: 50 minutes. Students: $15 - General: $30 Purchase tickets here.
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