“Whoever saw so much confusion in the brief passage of a few hours?” asks one of the characters in “The Misfortunes of a House” (Los Empen~os de una Casa), at Bilingual Foundation for the Arts.
Margarita Galban’s staging of this 17th century romantic comedy by Mexico’s feminist nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, compounds the confusion with over-baked performances that distract us from the arduous task of sorting out the plot’s many tangled strands.
The actors appear to have been asked to exaggerate and mug as much as possible. We become caught up in watching their shtick instead of listening to their words.
Maybe something was lost in Michael McGaha’s English translation of Galban and Lina Montalvo’s adaptation. Whatever the source of the problem, the English version (which alternates with performances of a Spanish version) is difficult to follow. And the play hardly seems worth the effort.
The story surrounding the author, who was eventually silenced by male authorities within the church and died soon thereafter, is so much more dramatic than the tepid little intrigues depicted in this play.
This adaptation makes the writer a character, with a brief introduction in which she is seen directing some of her fellow nuns in a version of this play. They are overacting, presumably in the spirit of amateur theatrics; when we switch to the play itself, we expect a different tone. No such luck--the performances remain just as broad.
The play is set in Toledo, where a woman and her brother play host to a variety of young men and women pursuing one another. The servant (Agustin Coppola) gets a funny drag scene, and we momentarily ponder the plight of the women, who are virtually trapped indoors unless accompanied by the right escort. But otherwise the “brief passage” of this narrative isn’t brief enough.
* “The Misfortunes of a House,” Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Ave. 19, Lincoln Heights. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Alternates weeks in Spanish and English. This week: Spanish. Ends March 23. $17. (213) 226-1170; (213) 225-4044. Running time: 2 hours.