We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 
 We Get Support From:
Become a Supporter 

Davis Shakespeare Festival’s ‘The Tenth Muse,’ With An All-Female Cast, Impresses In Unusual Summer Show

Photo by Yarcenia Garcia

Talia Friedenberg, Gabby Battista, & Leah Sanginiti in the Davis Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Tenth Muse"

Photo by Yarcenia Garcia

The Davis Shakespeare Festival is staging a very impressive summer show with “The Tenth Muse,” a drama set in colonial Mexico in the 1700s and featuring an all-female cast.

The script was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Davis Shakespeare is the first to perform it here.

This unusual story is set in a convent that was at one time famous as a center of learning. But when a chatty servant, Jesusa, arrives with a letter of introduction from a mother superior at another convent, she quickly learns that things have changed.

Jesusa: She said she visited once, decades ago, and was witness to readings and musical performances … she said there was a library here, bigger than any other in the New World.

Mother Superior (coldly): Who told you these lies?

Jesusa: Mother Petracenia always spoke of this convent with fondness.

Mother Superior: Well, the place she remembers… is no more

The convent’s library was put together by a remarkable nun, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, who was the author of poetry, plays and music.

Sor Juana’s independent thinking and strong advocacy for educating women got her in trouble with church authorities. She died of the plague at age 46, 20 years before the events of the play, but her intellectual reputation overs over the story throughout.

Soon after Jesusa’s arrival, she and her roommates make a remarkable discovery — a trove of Sor Juana’s writings hidden in an old cabinet, including sheet music and a full-length play.

Talia Friedenberg, Gabby Battista, & Leah Sanginiti in the Davis Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Tenth MusePhoto by Yarcenia Garcia

Soon, Jesusa and her roommates are secretly rehearsing the play they’ve uncovered, donning breeches to play the male roles and giggling with delight as they do so.

Jesusa: Oh, my dear Celia…

Manuela (Jesusa’s roommate): No no no, on the stage, the gestures must be grand! “Oh, My Dear Celia!”

Jesusa: Oh, My Dear Celia!

Manuela. Very good. But wait, who will be Doña Leonore?

Jesusa: Well, Tomasita, of course!

Tomasita: I will not be this Doña Leonore!

Manuela: But you must, and you will!

Tomasita: I am no lady!

Manuela: Of course not. This is a play, we are merely pretending. I am clearly not a servant, and Jesusa can never be a lady in the real world, she’s a half-breed orphan with no fortune. But this is a play! So anything is possible.

Tomasita: I don’t want to play…

“Anything is possible.” Those three little words are incredibly dangerous, since the Spanish Inquisition was terrorizing colonial Mexico during the time the play is set. Inquisitors were cracking down on those whose ideas got out of line and executing heretics.

This play is one that lingers in your mind long after you’ve left the theater. The Davis Shakespeare Festival, which gets bigger and better with each new season, is once again advancing its reputation for presenting beautifully mounted productions of worthy plays that no one else in the region is staging.

If you haven’t seen any of the company’s productions yet, “The Tenth Muse” is a great place to start.

Davis Shakespeare’s production of “The Tenth Muse” continues at the Veterans Memorial Theatre in Davis through Aug. 3.

Gabby Battista & Kelley Ogden in the Davis Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Tenth Muse"Photo by Yarcenia Garcia

 theatre review

Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio 

Sign up for ReCap

and never miss the top stories

Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Check out a sample ReCap newsletter.