It’s not every day we get to see the New York premiere of a 17th-century bedroom farce, let alone one written by a Mexican nun. But then again, everything about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is exceptional. In an age when women rarely attended school, Sor Juana taught herself Latin, Greek, Nahuatl, science, and rhetoric. She wrote philosophical treatises, scientific tracts, radical polemics, and steamy love letters (to the viceroy’s wife). Her poetry rivals the best of Spain’s Golden Century. After she penned an incendiary defense of women’s right to an education, the Inquisition took away her books and pens and forbade her to write—yet to this day, Spanish-speaking countries revere her as a proto-feminist literary icon.
None of which ensures that House of Desires has aged as well as her poetry or reputation. The schematic plot—Don A loves Doña B, who loves Don C, whom Doña D pursues, though she’s betrothed to Don E—is mere template for bawdy innuendo and mistaken identities. Peter Dobbins’s staging (in a church, aptly) leaves no buckle unswashed, with pratfalls, sword fights, and shtick flying by so quickly, it’s a miracle the cast can negotiate Sor Juana’s baroque verse. They breathe life into what might have been a musty relic. Even the Inquisition would approve.