Juana de la Cruz as Badass Intellectual Hero
Brittany McDonald’s fiery intensity in The Sins of Sor Juana
There’s an earthy gravitas about the eyes looking out into the lobby of the UWM Theatre Building from the North wall. Brittany McDonald’s headshot has a casual intensity about it that captures a bit of what makes her stage presence so appealing. It’s not at all spooky—it is a casual intensity, but it makes for a really fun performance in the lead of UWM Theatre's latest—The Sins of Sor Juana.
Juana Inés de la Cruz was more than an influential figure in Mexican cultural history. The play stages her as a badass intellectual hero as well. McDonald’s stage presence brings that intensity to the stage. Chance and circumstance have found Juana joining a convent. Her desire to read, write and so on were fine until some of her thoughts attracted the unwanted attention of the Spanish Inquisition. There’s a scene here where the church is taking her books, her paper, her pen and her inkwell. It’s all been removed and with smolderingly quiet intensity she says, “you forgot the candle.” It’s a really, really powerful moment that would be way too easy to overplay. Brttiany McDonald’s magnetism onstage allows her to merely speak the words. The implacation of those words falls into place around her.
Later-on she has been given the tools to write once more providing she write on pre-approved subjects . . . essentially having her own thoughts micromanaged by the church. In heroic and heroically humble poise, McDonald moves through Juana’s actions as she slices open a wrist, lets the blood stain her hand and presses it into a blank page, handing it to the attendant, telling her to give it to the man who gave her the offer. A brilliantly heroic scene that McDonald animates with dazzlingly understated grace. You can have my intellectual freedom when you bleed out of my cold, dead cortex.
Okay, so I’m probably making her performance sound a little more Clint Eastwood than it actually was, but Brittany McDonald was immensely enjoyable in this drama. The rest of the elements of the production might’ve faded in and out of focus every now and then, but McDonald’s performance here is well worth seeing.
The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s one weekend production of The Sins of Sor Juana closed earlier today. A brief, comprehensive review of the show runs in the next Shepherd-Express.