We all know that local independent theater usually translates to epic fail. Occasionally, though, we are astounded to find that our $20 didn't go to waste.
And ArtSpoken, a new performing arts venue in Little Havana, really delivers with Ulises Cala's Los Dictados del Fuego, turning its small stage into a surprisingly ample platform for time travel, centuries-old theological discussion, and lesbian nuns.
Directed by Artspoken's Yoshvani Medina, the play peeks into the life of the legendary scholar-poet Juana Inés de la Cruz during her stay at a convent in 1667.
Under the supervision of the Mother Superior, Sister Angela, Juana is expected to dispose of all her unladylike behaviors, such as reading non-theological literature, writing non-Christian poetry, and having sex with other nuns. This is easier said than done, and those familiar with the work of Juana Inés de la Cruz will understand why. She was a feminist before the term existed, and fought with her family, the Church, and society, so that she could become a literate intellectual and not let her good mind go to waste in a time when women were expected to breed, not read.
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Sandra Martinez turns in a remarkably nuanced performance as Juana, playing the poet like a woodpecker instead of a jackhammer, consistently needling her lover-nemesis with the truth instead of badgering her with it. Watching Martinez, you would never guess that her prior acting experience comes exclusively from playing sexy, coquettish villains in telenovelas and Spanish-language films.
Adela Romero, as Sister Angela, is just as captivating. Although, her performance is a little over the top, complete with guttural screams, epileptic convulsions, and onstage orgasms. In just a matter of seconds, Romero masterfully transforms the Mother Superior from a woman in her forties to a dying senior citizen. All the while, Sister Angela wrestles not only with Juana, but also with her own raging demons. Romero's performance captures the torturous experience of trying to do the right thing by society, family, and God while ultimately betraying yourself.
Los Dictados del Fuego is an intense and powerful exploration of homosexuality, feminism, and religion with high-caliber performances from two extraordinary actors. Think Doubt, if it had been about two fiery Latina lesbian nuns, instead of a repressed white-bread Bostonian sister and the priest she suspects of pedophilia.
Los Dictados del Fuego. ArtSpoken Performing Arts Center, 529 SW 12th Ave., Miami. The play runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m. through September 5. Tickets cost $20. Call 305-528-3514 or visit artspoken.org.