By Hugo Stern | Contributing Writer

Savannah Williams and Alejandra Rivas star in the spring play “Impure Thoughts (without apology)”. (Courtesy of Matthew Cohen)

The Performing Arts Theatre Program will be presenting its spring mainstage production, “Impure Thoughts (without apology),” April 26 to 29 in LeFevre Theatre. The Saint Mary’s production is the first full staging of this award-winning new script by Ken Prestininzi, who was a distinguished Artist in Resident at Saint Mary’s in the Fall 2017. She taught playwriting and other theatre classes.

“Impure Thoughts” is based on the life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, acclaimed scholar, poet and composer who lived in Mexico City in the 17th century. Noting that Seminar 103 students read de la Cruz’s “La Respuesta”, director Rebecca Engle explained that the play explores the spiritual and political crisis that overtook de la Cruz at the height of her fame, when Church elders demanded she renounce her life’s work as a writer.

Alejandra Rivas, who stars as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, commented on the plays relevancy, saying, “There are definitely many layers to each of these topics that can spark conversations on what is happening in the world today.” Savannah Williams, de la Cruz’s African-descendent slave, Loa, added that the play “serves as a reminder of how the Catholic Church participated in human atrocities.”

Sheila Hughes, the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, commented saying that “Impure Thoughts” “movingly portrays one woman’s struggle to think and write freely, in an age when women’s minds, as well as their bodies, were subject to complete control by family, society, and the Church.”

The Saint Mary’s Theatre Program is known for producing edgy contemporary plays that push the envelope at a private Catholic college. Last fall, the mainstage production was the awe-inspiring “… and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi,” by Oakland native Marcus Gardley, which tackled modern social issues in America through the lens of slaves and slave owners in the Civil War.

“I think we’ve all grown as artists due to the fact the director’s vision for the show is ambitious. There are some pretty intricate scenes that are tough to portray,” said Williams, who described this production as an extreme challenge. Rivas agreed by describing the process as “emotionally draining and technically difficult.”

“I hope the school comes to the play with an open mind and an open heart. It’s ideas are intense, and it’s visuals are striking,” said Rivas. “This is a new contemporary play—there is definitely something new and different happening here.”

“Impure Thoughts” performs Thursday, April 26 at 8pm; Friday, April 27 at 4pm and 8pm; Saturday, April 28 at 8pm; and Sunday, April 29 at 2pm at the LeFevre Theatre. General Admission tickets are $15, but students who present their Saint Mary’s ID cards will get a discount ($8 for students; $12 for faculty). Immediately following the Saturday performance, there will be a special opportunity to meet the playwright, as Ken Prestininzi and the cast join the audience in a post-show discussion. And if you want to learn more about the real de la Cruz, come to “Making Space for Women in the New World,” a panel featuring professors Denise Witzig, Maria Luisa Ruiz, Alvaro Ramirez, and Frances Sweeney. They’ll be discussing Sor Juana’s life and her struggle for gender equality on Friday, April 27 from 6:45-7:30 pm in the Delphine Lounge.

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