Not for the first time, the Storm Theatre presents a very old drama that sounds fantastically interesting in a press release but ends up feeling like homework on stage.
House of Desires is by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican nun who was known for her progressive views. The play was recently translated by Catherine Boyle for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which subsequently presented it to some acclaim. It's hard to see why.
The plot involves Doña Leonor, a striking and educated girl who is the romantic target of one Don Pedro. Meanwhile, Don Carlos, Doña Leonor's lover, is fancied by Doña Ana, Don Pedro's sister. Alas, Doña Ana is the target of Don Juan. Got that? And, oh yes: Don Carlos then starts to court Doña Ana. It won't be a surprise that mistaken identities, sexual confusion, and tricky servants abound in this confusing, plotty tale.
The problem is that unlike with Shakespeare, concentration does not result in a concomitant poetry, wisdom, wit, or style. De la Cruz, more interested in story, provides little in the way of artistic magic. It's also hard to see how this play is particularly progressive, especially when gauged against modern standards.
Director Peter Dobbins' company plays it loudly, with mashes, crashes, slips, and screams. While the actors appear to be having fun, it's not a very funny evening. There are also too few quiet, amorous, emotional moments. Jessica Myhr (Doña Ana) shows the most presence, and Michael Daly appears relaxed and comfortable as Don Rodrigo. Caitlin Mulhern (Doña Leonor), Gabriel Vaughan (Don Carlos), and Jamil Mena (Don Juan) fail to make an impression. Erin Murphy's pretty period costumes and Todd Edward Ivins' gorgeous yellow house give this Mexican stew some needed flavoring.
Presented by and at the Storm Theatre
145 W. 46th St., NYC.
Jan. 11-28. Wed.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Casting by J. Max Sullivan.