Review: “The Tenth Muse” at Davis Shakespeare Festival

The Tenth Muse

It’s not every day you discover the teachings of a radical Catholic nun.

It’s not every day you discover the teachings of a radical Catholic nun.

Photo courtesy of Davis Shakespeare Festival

Wed 8pm, Sun 2pm. Through 8/3; $15-$30; Davis Veterans Memorial Theater, 203 E 14th Street in Davis, (530) 802-0998,
Rated 5.0

Set in 18th century Mexico, Tanya Saracho’s The Tenth Muse tells the story of three young women who are admitted to a convent for their protection during the Mexican Inquisition, an extension of the Spanish Inquisition.

Jesusa (Gabby Battista) is a “mestiza,” a woman of mixed race. Tomasita (Leah Sanginiti), a servant of indigenous heritage, is brought by her mother for the shelter of the nuns, and Manuela (Talia Friedenberg), a noblewoman with her own secret, is also seeking refuge.

The women are put in a basement where they can sleep, but are told not to touch a large locked cabinet. Naturally they do, and inside they find the writings of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a revolutionary intellectual who died 20 years earlier and whose writings were supposedly destroyed.

The three women read and act out Sor Juana’s writings. It’s delightful, but quickly becomes terrifying when they are discovered by the strict Sor Filomena (Laurie Strawn) and Mother Superior (Lisa Quoresimo), who fear reprisals if the documents are found by members of the Inquisition.

While it’s a bit puzzling to figure out the message of this play in the first act, act two brings it all together in wonderful fashion.

The story becomes a fight for women’s rights when, at the urging of Sor Isabel (Kelley Ogden), the women find a way to save at least some of the writings, while the nuns frantically burn the rest. The final scene is dramatically beautiful.