This Week In Theater
Written by: Coco Blignaut
God’s Gypsy is an intriguing story about a woman and her journey into sainthood. We are in Spain in 1525, a complex time in religious history. Teresa is not only blessed with looks but comes from a privileged family who originally were Jewish. To protect the family from the inquisition her father converted to Christianity. There is a lot of information about her life on the web, and it’s worth a little research. She was a great woman, way before her time and quite possibly one of the first women to openly express the fact that she did not need a man as a spiritual advisor (a Priest).
Teresa’s mother might have been the cause of Teresa’s confusion and unhappiness. Mom was a bit of a rebel and no doubt that influenced her daughter. Both women were educated and loved to read; her mother escaped her mundane life by indulging in romance novels, full of sex and scandal. She was asked to keep that a secret from her father who disapproved of such indecent writings. Of course, the curious Teresa would hide some of the books under her pillow and read them herself. Was this the catalyst for her flirty, sexy persona and her interest in the erotic?
Her father was very strict, and after Teresa tried to run away, she was sent to a convent to learn discipline and break her of evil thoughts. It is there that she found her true love and developed a close relationship with Christ. Teresa had such a physical connection to God it was considered to be sexual in nature, and we are led to believe that she even experienced immaculate sexual orgasm! Well, I might be wrong about that, the orgasm might have been more about her man Javier, who she was going to marry before she discovered her true calling. However, the myth has it that she experienced a physical connection to God that was mysteriously unusual and unexplainable.
The play, based on the novel by Barbara Mujica, “Sister Teresa” was written by Coco Blignaut, and done as a work shop project at the Actors Studio over a three-year period. The script was written in contemporary language, possibly making it more digestible for today’s audience. However, the play seemed to be a mash-up of different time periods, and the casting was odd.
The priest, Father Braulio (Daniel deWeldon), looked as if he belonged at Starbucks pounding away on his Mac rather than a priest of that period, with his very sharp haircut and clean, baby face. Meanwhile, David Haverty’s (the Inquisitor) persona, costume and language worked better for that period. The stage set was stunning as we expect from Joel Daavid the set designer and director. However, it was very Gothic and didn’t really work with the contemporary voice of the script. I know the play is about Teresa’s years in the convent and the events that set her up for sainthood but a little more on her background and family and a little less of her convent years might have made it more interesting.
The real disappointment for me was the acting; Saint Teresa was played by the writer Blignaut and almost every line, even before she takes her vows, is delivered looking up into the sky in a little whiney voice. There were times I couldn’t hear her. At the end of the play, she was supposed to be an old woman, which was so poorly portrayed I thought she was pregnant after she pats her belly in circular motions. Then she shuffles around the stage as if she was severely constipated, rather than an elderly woman with arthritis.
The Princess of Eboli ( Carole Weyers) in period costume spoke her lines as if she was on the phone speaking to a friend, she lacked emotion or tone changes in her voice. She had no stage presence. The Evil Priest (Daniel deWeldon) either screamed his words or whispered them so low they couldn’t be heard past the first row. His persona just didn’t seem sincere. Even so, it was not just those actors who were at fault it was an overall disconnect between the actors and the script.
I don’t know if it was directorial or the actors themselves, but it just didn’t flow well. I like Joel Daavid’s work, and I know he is a very detailed director; I wonder if he cast this production himself? The only character I enjoyed watching was Sister Angelica (Tsulan Cooper), who was Saint Teresa’s side kick and confidante.
The play is three hours long, (that’s a long play), and it does go into Teresa’s story of being re- born again after she dies from a fever and of her later years of persecution during the Inquisition. Her ex-lover, Javier, who also joins a monastery and becomes part of the Inquisition, saves her from the death they planned for her and her nuns.
Teresa prevailed against the Inquisition and through personal and political struggles, becomes a well-respected representative for the church. She wrote and traveled around Europe opening convents and spreading the word that God is in everything we do and see, separating the theory of God from the traditional beliefs. She was the founder of the Discalced Carmelites (order of the barefoot nuns).
There is a lot to the story. I was not bored, and I found it an informative creative tale that kept me interested. Nevertheless, 45 minutes into the second act I found myself praying, praying that it would end because watching any more horrendous acting was really getting to me, and three hours is just too long. Of course, the acting might get better as the play goes on, but it just didn’t work for me.
A Note: The Violist Lili Hayden, composer of the original music, was a treat; she opened and closed the play; however, she only plays again on Dec. 7th.
FYI- The production is billed as a play suitable for 14 years-olds and above, but there is scene that is very strong and I don’t think I would want to make this a family outing with my teenagers.
Written by: Coco Blignaut
Based on the novel “Sister Teresa” by Barbara Mujica
Directed by: Joel Daavid
Actors: Coco Blignaut, Tsulan Cooper, Daniel deWeldon, David Haverty, Edison Park, Abbe Rowlins, Pat Satcher, Carole Weyers, Jeanne Witczak
Performances: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through Jan. 12 (dark Dec. 26-29).
The Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA 90038
For reservations call (866) 811-4111 or go to www.godsgypsy.com.