The Illinois State University School of Theatre production of "The Heresy of Love" placed high on our year-end list of 2017's top local stage offerings.

In counting down her top five picks for the year, Pantagraph reviewer Marcia Weiss commented:

"This drama recounts the life story of Sister Juana, who was a nun in Mexico during the late 17th century. She was a brilliant poet and playwright who was ruthlessly punished by the church during the Inquisition for writing secular materials.

"What a revelation this play was, about the life of a genius almost lost to history, whose voice could not be silenced. Paige Brantley’s performance as Sister Juana was uncompromising and unforgettable."

The story was also the subject of the original seven-episode Netflix series, "Juana Ines," which premiered last February.

Featured in the title role was Mexican actress Arcelia Ramirez, a popular TV and film star in her homeland (the character in her younger years was played by another actress, Arantza Ruiz).

"The Heresy of Love," by British playwright Helen Edmundson, first staged by England's Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012, is based on the latter part of Sister Juana's life, during her persecution by the Inquisition. 

The ISU production, under what Weiss called "the eloquent" direction of Robert Quinlan, is headed for further kudos in the days ahead.

Those will come courtesy of its entry in the annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, beginning Jan. 12 with the regional competition in Indianapolis.

The Indy fest is one of eight such regional events around the country, all of which lead up to the main national event running April 9-14 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

If you missed the original weeklong stand of "Heresy of Love" last spring, you're in luck: The show is being revived for one performance only, at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the Center for the Performing Arts stage.

Admission, at the door only, is by pay-what-you-can donation (cash or checks only) to help defray travel costs.

"It's an incredibly poignant play," says Karyl Carlson, ISU's director of choral activities, who had a hand in interpolating the distinctive, mood-setting Gregorian chants between the various stage transitions.

The production is designed by John C. Stark with what Weiss called "an intriguing puzzle of iron grill gates, which are practical and brilliantly serve as a visual metaphor for the cloistered life of the nuns."

The cast also features John Tovar as the Archbishop, Cyndee Brown as the Mother Superior and Sarah Seidler as her highness Vicereine (who asked Sister Juana to write a play in honor of her newborn son).

To be Frank: We have an even happier addendum to last week's column recounting the brief life of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" in its B-N original run (seven whole days at the Irvin Theater!).

We also noted two occasion when Capra himself turned up (or not) in the Twin Cities.

The first was in 1975, when he was set to attend an ISU showing of his films, including "It's a Wonderful Life." It was a momentous occasion that, alas, fell victim to Capra getting sick and canceling his appearance.

Three years later, in March 1978, Capra DID make it to B-N, as part of an IWU tribute to his films, complete with Pantagraph interview (see accompanying Pantagraph staff photo for a somewhat morose-looking Capra in repose).

Thanks to the research of the McLean County Museum of History's Bill Kemp, who alerted us earlier this week that series DID, in fact, include a screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" on March 20, with Capra in attendance.

The archival schedule we consulted for last week's column stopped prematurely and listed only "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on March 13-14; "Meet John Doe," March 18; and "Lost Horizon," March 19.

Lending a hand(s): The January edition of First Friday in downtown Bloomington is on the make ... as in, hoping visitors will stop by any one of a number of artist galleries and studios participating in the return of Hands on Art, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday.

The goal: engaging our creativity, all the better for us to make our own piece of personal art, be it art cards, jewelry or crafts.

Featured will be art-making stations and all the materials needed. Unless otherwise noted, everything's free.

All that's asked is patience, since space is limited for some activities.

Check out Aletheia Studios, Angel Ambrose Fine Art Studio & Creative Space, Art Vortex Studio, Eaton Gallery, Inside Out: Accessible Art, Joann Goetzinger Gallery and Three Square Studio (other studios/galleries will be open as well).

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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