Properties of Silence and Post-Silence at Pasadena Playhouse

Jan 22, 2015
Properties of Silence and Post-Silence

Poetry, science and history meld as famed 17th century poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz crosses paths with a contemporary realtor and her pool contractor husband in a multi-layered dreamscape. Now commemorating its 25th anniversary, About...Productions celebrates by pairing a revival of its critically acclaimed original drama,Properties of Silence, with a "Post-Silence" Salon Series of poetry readings, special performances, panels and discussions. Written by Theresa Chavez, Rose Portillo and Alan Pulner and directed by Chavez, Properties of Silence opens Feb. 28 at The Carrie Hamilton Theatre at The Pasadena Playhouse. Each performance will be followed by a "Post-Silence" event in tribute to Sor Juana's legacy as the first feminist writer. Set in Phoenix, Arizona, Properties of Silence centers around a contemporary couple who meet Sor Juana (portrayed by Rose Portillo) in a surreal dream landscape inspired by her most significant poem, "Primero Sueño" ("First Dream"). As Barbara (Elizabeth Rainey) and Tom (Kevin Sifuentes) come to grips with their troubled marriage, the Catholic Church is forcing Sor Juana to silence her pen and her scientific inquiries. (Sifuentes doubles in the role of Sor Juana's confessor, Miranda.) Properties of Silence features original compositions by vocal artist Julie Adler. Black and white video by Janice Tanaka emulates the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema to underscore Sor Juana's life story. Original prints created by artists from the first Maestra Atelier at Self Help Graphics & Art in tribute to Sor Juana will be displayed in The Carrie Hamilton Theatre lobby. Properties of Silence is the third piece in a trilogy that deals with the inner voice as a possible source of personal, spiritual and political truth. When and how does the inner voice conflict with socially determined definitions of "the normal" and "the acceptable"? "The play takes place in a fevered dream, in the 17th century and in present day," explains Chavez. "One of the things we explore is how people make contracts - social, legal, marital - and how those contracts conspire to silence the inner voice. What happens when the outer trappings no longer add up to what's inside us? The play lives in a contemporary time, but everything is taken from Sor Juana's writings and her biography." "The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary characters allows us to look at current issues in a new way," suggests Pulner. "Sor Juana has many things to say to us today." Revered in Spanish-speaking countries, Sor Juana was a self-taught poet and playwright, scientist, philosopher and feminist. She began writing in rhymed verse at age 5, becoming a nun at age 21 in order to continue her pursuit of knowledge - the only other options open to her were to become a wife or a prostitute. During her life, she acquired what is considered to be the largest collection of scientific and musical instruments in the Americas and also possessed a substantial library. Before being silenced by the Church, she was commissioned by the vice-regal court of New Spain, residing in Mexico City, to write verse and plays, a number of which were published in Europe. She was dubbed by the most renowned writers and thinkers of her time as the "Tenth Muse" and the "Phoenix of the Americas." When Properties of Silence premiered in 1999, LA Weekly's Steven Leigh Morris called it "a testament to... the force of the authors' intelligence and wit, their potent lyrical sense," while Julio Martinez wrote in Variety that "Playwrights Theresa Chavez, Alan Pulner and [Rose] Portillo... have made tangible the monumental struggle that one must go through to discover and maintain the deeply submerged inner voice that is the essence of his or her uniqueness." In 2003, the L.A. Phil presented a staged reading as one of the events related to its production of John Adams' El Niño (which incorporates text from Sor Juana). Last October, a concert reading was performed for AxS Festival 2014/CURIOSITY, and a festival production was given seven performances as part of the historic Encuentro 2014 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in November. Properties of Silence is part of a series of works created by About... that explores the inner voice of unique individuals and their struggle for self-expression, as well as interrelated themes in science, spirituality and creativity. Properties of Silence is produced by About...Productions in residence at The Carrie Hamilton Theatre at The Pasadena Playhouse. Set design is by Akeime Mitterlehner; costume design is by Marcy Froehlich; lighting design is by Pablo Santiago; and choreography is by Sarah Leddy. The "Post-Silence" Salon Series is produced in collaboration with a number of individuals and organizations including Ren Hen Press, an award-winning literary organization. About...Productions is currently celebrating 26 years of creating original interdisciplinary theaterworks and educational programs that provoke new perspectives on history, humanity and culture. Dedicated to collaboration in order to create artistic and community dialogue, the company's work has been seen locally, nationally, in Canada and on national PBS television. About's Young Theaterworks program introduces youth to the importance of writing and the power of communication through artistic expression, honest dialogue and live performance. Properties of Silence and the "Post-Silence" Salon Series runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m from Feb. 28 through March 29, with one weekday matinee on Wednesday, March 25 at 2 p.m. (dark Sunday, March 22). Four preview performances take place on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 22 at 3 p.m.; Thursday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.; and Friday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. The matinee on Sunday, March 8 will be a benefit for About...Productions and will include a post-play reception. Tickets are $30, except preview tickets which are $15 and the March 8 benefit performance which is $60. Student tickets (with valid ID) are $15 (except March 8). The Carrie Hamilton Theatre at The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena CA 91101. For reservations and information, call (626) 396-0920 or visit Check the website for a schedule of salon events.