A Ramble through 16th Century Spain

In the new film Saving Mr. Banks Walt Disney devotes 20 years to trying to persuade P.L. Travers to let him make a movie of her classic children’s book Mary Poppins. She finally does, but with the proviso that she work with the writers and have complete control over every word. It seems to me that the same sort of proviso must have been granted to Barbara Mujica, who

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wrote the book Sister Teresa and is credited with collaborating with playwright Coco Blignaut in adapting the book to the stage. The Blignaut/Mujica play, now having its world premiere at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood, is called God’s Gypsy. One gets the impression that not a single word has been edited out of the script as it rambles on for three hours.

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I think it might be quicker to read the book. Sister Teresa of Avila, as played by Coco Blignaut, goes in and out of trances, has two rapturous orgasms on stage, and decides that God is everywhere, as she wends her erratic way to sainthood. She travels all over 16th century Spain setting up convents where her mystical view of a possible personal relationship with God, as described in her books, is strived for. Denounced by a priest as “being seduced by Lucifer,” she insists that the vision providing her orgasmic ecstasies is Christ. Meanwhile, her devoted acolyte, Sister Angelica (Tsulan Cooper) undergoes two violent onstage rapes by that same priest, Father Braulio (Daniel deWeldon). In addition, she undergoes intense torture by the Inquisitor (David Haverty), who attempts to force her to acknowledge that Sister Teresa is a heretic. It does not help Teresa’s case that her grandfather was a converso—a Jew who had converted to Christianity—and her Catholic faith is questioned and attacked by those who do not share

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her views. To emphasize that, God’s Gypsy ends with Teresa’s death and an offstage Cantor singing the Shema, the most important prayer of the Jewish people. In addition to the repetitiveness of the script and the obscurity of the religious philosophy, there are too many extraneous scenes that are meant to demonstrate the frivolous attitudes of 16th century Spain and the playful eccentricities of Sister Teresa herself. They are largely unnecessary and, unfortunately, tedious and boring. The same might be said of the innumerable set changes in which black-robed cast members bumble around in the dark moving a couple of benches and tables back and forth across the stage. The stage itself, however, is another of set designer Joel Daavid’s habitual triumphs. It consists of simulated stone archways connected by diaphanous drapes behind which nuns can be seen walking from time to time, traversing the corridors of the convent. And suspended from the rafters, a large simulated stone wheel resembling a stained glass rosette window. Joel Daavid, in addition to designing the set, directed the play. But it wasn’t his direction that was at fault. It was the script. If it were cut to 90 minutes the play might be worth seeing. Mostly, though, the “worth seeing” part is confined to Lili Haydn, a spectacular violinist and composer whose introductory overture and musical score raises the play almost to the level of opera. But not quite. God’s Gypsy will continue at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, in Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 through January 12th. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.godsgypsy.com for tickets. Photo: The ladies of 16th century Spain, Jeanne Witczak, Carole Weyers, and Abbe Rowlins Photo by Silvia Spross

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