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    Nun the wiser

    The letters of a 17th-century nun pining for her departed lover are the basis for the moving one-woman show "Cartas."


    Unrequited love is quite a burden to bear, but few bore it with such passion and eloquence as Marianna Alcoforado, a 17th-century Portuguese nun who is the subject of this engrossing one-woman show playing through April 15 at the Culture Project.

    Directed by: Lisa Forrell.
    Cast: Myriam Cyr.
    Myriam Cyr plays Alcoforado, who, although living in a convent since the age of 12, managed to have an affair with Noel Bottin, a mercenary given the title of Compte de Chamilly by the king of France. After their brief encounter, Bottin left Portugal never to return. Alcoforado subsequently wrote him five letters which serve as the script here. The letters were shown to the salons of Paris and published in France. For two centuries it was thought that they were written by a man until research in the 1800s gave Alcoforado her due. Modigliani and Matisse painted portraits of her and Rilke dedicated a poem to her.

    On an intimate stage bracketed by pools of shiny black rocks, Cyr, who also translated the letters, gives a moving, emotionally charged performance as Alcoforado, articulating the nun's near-mania for her absent lover. Speaking directly to the audience, she declares her love and waxes poetic on the subject of desire with a remarkable combination of innocence and luminescence. Her love comes across as an avenue for self-exploration. ("I was charmed, I was seduced by my own violent intentions," she declares.) As it becomes clear that Bottin is never going to return, her emotions run the gamut from a sensual reverie to focused anger to a graceful serenity and strength. This is a great evening of theater.

    APRIL 3, 2001

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