ONLINE BENEFIT READING
LOVE IS THE GREATER LABYRINTH
AMOR ES MÁS LABERINTO
by SOR JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ
PREMIERED MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2021
The recording was available until 7:00 PM EDT Friday, October 1, 2021. It is no longer available.
This event was part of HISPANIC GOLDEN AGE CLASSICS | SOR JUANA, a multi-part initiative of Red Bull Theater, Diversifying the Classics | UCLA, and Repertorio Español.
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Presented in English with Spanish subtitles available.
In a brand new translation by Diversifying the Classics | UCLA
Directed by Melia Bensussen
Featuring Oge Agulué, Juliana Aidén Martinez, Cecil Baldwin, Anita Castillo-Halvorssen, Carson Elrod, Ryan Garbayo, Sam Lilja, Juliana Aidén Martinez, Ismenia Mendes, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Tony Roach, Timothy D. Stickney, and Chauncy Thomas
Love is the Greater Labyrinth is a madcap take on Greek mythology by famous Mexican author Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, now translated into English for the first time. A swashbuckling adventure, romantic farce, and morality tale all rolled into one, the play follows Teseo (Theseus) as he goes to meet his fate in the jaws of the monstrous Minotaur. Little does he know that his greatest test will come when he escapes one labyrinth and heads straight into the even more disorienting complications of love. Princesses Fedra and Ariadna pull him in two different directions—which path will he choose?
In a love triangle that somehow keeps adding sides, love gets all the blinder with masked balls and secret nighttime trysts. Meanwhile, mad King Minos’s insatiable desire for revenge threatens to turn this into a tragedy after all. Sor Juana explores the epic consequences of emotion run amok through increasingly knotty entanglements and witty metatheatrical play, as the heroes of myth find themselves helpless against the power of Cupid.
Presented in association with Repertorio Español & Diversifying the Classics | UCLA, this event marks the New York premiere of a brand new English-language translation.
*The Diversifying the Classics | UCLA working group responsible for the translation includes Marta Albalá Pelegrín, Paul Fitzgibbon Cella, Barbara Fuchs, Sarah Grunnah, Richard Huddleson, Rafael Jaime, Saraí Jaramillo, Rachel Kaufman, Robin Kello, Laura Muñoz, Javier Patiño Loira, Amanda Riggle, Rhonda Sharrah, Cheché Silveyra, Aina Soley, Samantha Solis, and Elizabeth Warren.
This event is supported by the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain.
Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
MINOS, king of Crete | Timothy D. Stickney
ARIADNA, princess, his daughter | Ismenia Mendes
FEDRA, princess, his daughter | Maria-Christina Oliveras
TESEO, prince of Athens | Sam Lilja
TUNA, Teseo’s servant, a gracioso | Carson Elrod
BACO, prince of Thebes | Chauncy Thomas
VINNY, Baco’s servant | Ryan Garbayo
LIDORO, prince of Epirus | Tony Roach
LICAS, ambassador of Athens | Cecil Baldwin
TEBANDRO, captain of the guard | Oge Agulué
LAURA, Fedra’s servant | Juliana Aidén Martinez
–There will be one 10-minute intermission–
Zoom Manager | Betsy Ayer
OBS Manager | Jessica Fornear
Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein
general manager | Sherri Kotimsky
assistant director | Lanise A. Shelley
ABOUT THE PLAY
Like the Minotaur itself, Love is the Greater Labyrinth (Amor es más laberinto, 1689) is a chimerical mix of elements, skillfully weaving the story of Theseus and the Cretan labyrinth with threads of romance, farce, and sociopolitical commentary. It demonstrates the variety and playfulness of Baroque drama in late seventeenth-century New Spain (now Mexico) and provides a dazzling showcase for the pen of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the famous philosopher, poet, playwright, and nun. The result is a mythological play that finds its Greeks acting suspiciously like seventeenth-century Spanish courtiers, matching wits and swords in messy love pentangles as their servants crack jokes behind their backs. Love moves nimbly between high and low registers, with a ranting tyrant spewing death threats one moment, and the gracioso (the traditional comic sidekick in Hispanic drama) offering sly metatheatrical commentary on the over-the-top performances from the side. Even the authorship is complicated: Sor Juana wrote most of the play, while her friend, the priest and poet Juan de Guevara, contributed most of the second act. Together they construct a labyrinthine plot that proves the course of true love never did run smooth, presented in English translation for the first time.
Love is the Greater Labyrinth makes a few notable changes to the Greek myth that show its ethical investments and modern outlook. First, instead of one female lead, there are two: lovestruck Ariadna still provides Teseo (Theseus) with the string that helps him escape the labyrinth, but this time she finds herself vying for his love with her sister Fedra (Phaedra), who is absent during the Cretan portion of the original story. The sisters are often paired in stylized sequences which reveal their inner monologues and contrast their differing personalities through poetry or song, giving the actresses a showcase and incorporating musical interludes. Along with the dances at the masked ball, these scenes provide the pleasing multimedial spectacle that Baroque audiences would expect from their drama.
The original audience for the premiere was the viceregal court in Mexico City. A new viceroy had just arrived and Love is the Greater Labyrinth was presented as part of his birthday celebration. The play shows a grasp of the court culture around which Sor Juana spent most of her life and lightly critiques some of its excesses, safely distanced by the ancient Greek mythological setting. Teseo’s speech in Act I outlining his own heroic deeds focuses heavily on his fights against bloodthirsty tyrants, and culminates in his assertion that “the greatest of victories” is “to triumph over [your]self.” In the end, he proves his true heroism not by slaying the Minotaur, but by showing mercy to his enemy, King Minos. Teseo also behaves honorably toward both sisters throughout the play, unlike his more frequent depiction in myth. Presenting Teseo as an enlightened prince who is scrupulously courteous towards women, as opposed to the maniacally vengeful Minos who at one point threatens to execute his own daughters, may have been Sor Juana’s message to the new viceroy about the proper behavior of a ruler, and her hope for a continued good relationship with the palace.
Sadly, it was not to be, as she shortly thereafter became embroiled in controversy over her views on women’s education and church hierarchy. The ensuing battle with hostile male members of the clergy eventually resulted in the loss of her independence as well as her impressive collection of books. Love is the Greater Labyrinth was her last play. Today its formal inventiveness and warning about the dangers of corrupt leaders feel more timely than ever. This new translation expands the English theatrical canon with another example of Sor Juana’s timeless brilliance.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (ca.1650–1695) was a prolific Mexican writer and polymath, hailed in her own lifetime as “the Tenth Muse.” Born in what was then the Viceroyalty of New Spain as the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish father and a criolla mother (Mexican-born, but of Spanish descent), Sor Juana showed an early love of learning, mastering at a young age Latin, Greek, and Nahuatl, a local indigenous language. She entered a convent in order to continue her intellectual pursuits free from the constraints of marriage, and soon gained renown as an author. Writing for the Viceroy’s court, she designed entertainments for religious festivals and state events. Her highly regarded (and often translated) lyric poetry includes amorous verses depicting lesbian desire. She also wrote a powerful argument for women’s right to think and write, the “Letter to Sor Filotea.”
Sor Juana’s oeuvre includes three comedias—a form of secular drama that was popular throughout the seventeenth-century Hispanic world. Love is the Greater Labyrinth (Amor es más laberinto) is her last, after La Segunda Celestina (1675) and Los empeños de una casa (1683). Like the other two, Love is the Greater Labyrinth was first performed as part of a court festival, and like La Segunda Celestina, it was a collaboration with another playwright. Sor Juana’s co-author, Juan de Guevara, was a priest, author, and sometimes her competition in local poetry contests. Although little is known about Guevara today, some of his poetry survives, along with contemporary reports of his reputation as a talented writer.
Shortly after Love is the Greater Labyrinth was written, some church and state authorities became threatened by Sor Juana’s outspoken critiques of the misogynistic culture that limited opportunities for women in her time. They forced her to give up writing before she died during a plague outbreak in 1695. Yet her substantial body of work spread her fame far and wide, from multiple collected editions published in Spain during her lifetime and shortly after, to performances as far away as the Philippines (Love is the Greater Labyrinth in 1708). After a period of critical neglect and dismissal, scholars in the twentieth century took interest in her work from feminist, LGBTQ+, and Latin American perspectives. Today, her plays, poems, and fiery treatises still bring us Sor Juana’s singular voice, despite the heteropatriarchal structures which tried, but failed, to silence her.
ABOUT THE PLOT
As the play opens, King Minos of Crete, obsessed with revenge against Athens for the death of his son, has gotten Athens’ prince, Teseo, in his clutches. He intends to sacrifice Teseo to the Minotaur, the terrifying half-man, half-bull monster that lives in the palace’s impenetrable labyrinth. Meanwhile, the two princesses of Crete, Fedra and Ariadna, have both fallen in love with the heroic and dashing Teseo at first sight, even though they are already being courted by two other princes, Lidoro and Baco, respectively.
Once Fedra and Teseo get a moment alone together, Teseo is won over by Fedra’s pity and charm, falling for her as well. However, a jealous Ariadna is secretly eavesdropping on their conversation and decides to win Teseo’s affections for herself by helping him escape the labyrinth. Baco, eavesdropping on Ariadna in turn, misunderstands the situation and comes to believe that Ariadna is in love with Lidoro, so he concocts a plan to woo Fedra to make Ariadna jealous. Lidoro catches Baco half-heartedly romancing a confused Fedra, and the princes almost come to blows before Minos interrupts and Fedra defuses the situation. Everyone finds themselves fully enmeshed in the tangled web of love and longing, while the wise-cracking servants mock their melodramatic masters.
Act Two begins with Teseo’s prompt escape from the labyrinth, thanks to Ariadna’s clever scheme with the thread to lead him out. Having made quick work of the Minotaur, Teseo’s next challenge is ... choosing between two invitations to a masked ball. Teseo feels indebted to Ariadna because she saved his life, but he loves Fedra, so he decides to go with his feelings. He and his servant Tuna head to the ball undercover, where masks and misplaced tokens lead to mistaken identities and mixed-up couples making secret plans to meet in private.
Later that night, Ariadna, Fedra, Teseo, and Baco all converge in the palace gardens, each thinking they are there to meet the object of their affection. Under the cover of darkness, they stumble around and pour out their hearts to the wrong people, until Teseo and Baco end up angrily crossing swords. As the princesses call for lamps to clear up the confusion, Teseo escapes into the labyrinth to avoid having his identity discovered, and the newly arrived Lidoro takes his place in the fight with Baco. Although the princesses put a stop to the violence before it goes further, Lidoro and Baco swear vengeance on each other over their perceived rivalry and they all lament their helplessness in the labyrinth of love.
Baco attempts to challenge Lidoro to a duel, but self-serving servants Vinny and Tuna, tasked with delivering the letter of challenge, get their wires crossed. As a result, Teseo winds up fighting Lidoro instead, each thinking the other is Baco. Teseo deals Lidoro a killing blow and flees. Baco arrives at the scene just in time to be caught next to Lidoro’s body by the palace guards. The letter, containing his challenge and signature, implicates him in the murder, even as he protests his innocence. Baco decides to escape Crete before he is arrested.
Soon after, Tuna updates Ariadna on the fatal consequences of Teseo and Lidoro’s duel. She once again begins to concoct a scheme to save Teseo’s life and plans to flee with him back to Athens. Meanwhile, Teseo is making the same plans with Fedra. She agrees to go with him, and he leaves to find a ship in the harbor to take them away. Baco comes to bid farewell to his love one last time at Ariadna’s window. Ariadna, thinking he is Teseo, professes her love and reveals her plan to escape with him. Confused but too happy to question her sudden change of heart, Baco accepts Ariadna’s offer.
As Baco is waiting for Ariadna to come down from the balcony to the garden, he runs into Fedra who is there to meet Teseo, and mistaking each other for the one they are waiting for, they leave together. Teseo arrives just in time to meet Ariadna, whom he mistakes for Fedra, and they also leave for the harbor together. The couples run into each other and the mix-up is soon discovered.
Just then, Vinny enters, chased by palace guards, and King Minos is drawn by all the uproar. He is shocked and enraged to discover his daughters running off under the cover of night with two men, one of them his hated enemy, Teseo, whom he thought dead. He condemns all of them to death for offending his honor, unmoved by any pleas for mercy.
This tragic end is interrupted by the arrival of the Athenian army, seeking vengeance for the death of their prince. Their prince, however, reveals himself to be very much alive. The tables have turned, but Teseo does not follow Minos’s example now that he has the upper hand. He chooses to grant the king mercy in exchange for Fedra’s hand in marriage, and a dejected Ariadna finds comfort in the arms of Baco, rewarding his steadfast love. The servants also pair up, cracking jokes about the conventional comic ending. All the misunderstandings are unraveled at last, as love wins over bloody vengeance and they all head into a brighter future.
– Rhonda Sharrah & Aina Soley | Diversifying the Classics | UCLA