A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
House of Desires

Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote “House of Desires” for presentation in 1683 at the court of the viceroy and his wife, and like Shakespeare’s works presented at the English court earlier in the century, it is intended to amuse.  According to Ottavio Paz, writer of the definitive biography Sor Juana, by the age of thirteen Juana was a child prodigy, astounding an assembly of the learned with her knowledge.  Having read all the classics in her grandfather’s library, she declined offers of marriage and opted for holy orders and a life in a convent where she might be surrounded by her books and music, writing plays and poetry and essays – one of which got her into trouble with the reigning bishop.

Reminiscent of Plautus, “House of Desires” as directed by Nancy Meckler is a delightful, fast-paced satiric farce on love and honor, a favorite theme of plays by Calderon and other Spanish dramatists.  Two couples pair off at the end after mixups that entail rejected suitors, jealousy, disguise, and intrigue initiated by two clever servants. Beginning as Sor Juana writing at her convent desk, Leonor then emerges from her habit as the heroine of the play, her name a tribute to Juana’s patron Leonor, wife of the viceroy.  Dona Leonor and her boyfriend Don Carlos (Joseph Millson) are eloping when they are attacked and take refuge in the house of Dona Ana (Claire Cox), who has a crush on Carlos and who separates them, assigning them to different rooms .  Don Juan, a rejected suitor of Ana’s (Osca Pearce) bursts onto the scene to declare his undying love.  Ana’s  brother Don Pedro arrives, declaring his love for Leonor. A convention of the Spanish drama is the monologue: Leonor’s monologue about her life reflects Sor Juana’s own early years.  Another convention is the song, here a charming quartet with the refrain asking who suffers most in love.

 Two scenes in the “dark” (full lights on) comment amusingly on how the lovers change and change again as they grope for (and miss) each other and attempt to grab others.

Another Plautine device is that of disguise.  While Ana’s clever servant will stop at nothing to win for her mistress the suitor she desires,  Don Carlos’s servant Castano (Simon Trinder) uses Leonor’s elopement baggage to dress as a woman to escape from one tight situation, only to find himself in another – wooed by the egotistical poseur Pedro (William Buckhurst).  Simon Trinder gleefully dons and comments on each piece of feminine attire in his reverse strip-tease.  The macho men, in traditional leather, fume and strut and strike attitudes, but it is the women who twist them about and triumph at the end. Tickets and repertory performance schedule: www.rsc.org.uk.