AMERIGO – Deena Marie Manzanares

Deena Marie Manzanares, Actor
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Who knew I’d find myself looking so forward to Purgatory?

After spending nearly every day there for a week, I’m falling in love with it. Purgatory is of course, the setting for AMERIGO, where I am lucky enough and extremely humbled to step into the shoes of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Sister of the Immaculate Conception. Poet and playwright. 1648-1695. She was centuries ahead of her time, teaching herself to read and to speak Latin, cutting off her hair when she wasn’t learning fast enough.

Upon entering the convent where she remained until her death (she died of the plague after caring for her sick sisters), Sor Juana amassed the largest library in Mexico. “I knew what I wanted and discovered how to get it.” A great beauty, writer, scholar, lesbian, and defender of womens rights, she was eventually pressured into silence, and all of her books and belongings were taken from her. She then repented of having lived so long without religion in a religious community.

Today, the woman who was then silenced is highly revered.

I want every acting experience possible, and I’ve never played someone who really lived. It was something I was very much hoping to do, and look who I got! I am in awe of Sor Juana. I want to let her find me rather than play any preconceived notion of what she must have been like. I can feel my version of her starting to sneak in, in the way I stand, in a strength and stillness I’m finding, In my voice. I want to do her great justice…and then some.

What an interesting element, too, to not only be portraying real people but real people in a great what if. A fantasy.

I love words. The beauty and power of words. Eric Samuelsen has written a rich and stunning script. Sometimes just hearing another character speak is enough to make me teary eyed…and as I start to realize the passion behind it, I’m even more astonished.

It’s not every day you’re having a conversation with Christopher Columbus one minute, Amerigo Vespucci the next, all while sharing a glance with Niccolo Machiavelli. It gives me chills.

And this is just the beginning. They’ve been in Purgatory for quite some time, clearly not with their first choice in company and must settle the dispute of who discovered the new world. Sor Juana is the judge and Machiavelli mediates as Amerigo and Columbus plead their cases. All four are strong and smart. Different and similar. They may or may not know why they’re there and they may or may not be surprised at what they learn not only about each other, but themselves…

Deena Marie Manzanares plays Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in the world premiere of Plan-B’s AMERIGO April 8-18.

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