Love and Other Demons
(see below for summary and cast list)
Synopsis: ACT I
The action takes place in a colonial sea port in Colombia in
the 18th century.
The Bishop stands with his librarian, Cayetano Delaura, overlooking the town that is under his care. A solar eclipse is about to occur and the Bishop advises Delaura against looking directly at the sun. Simultaneously, Sierva María de Todos Los Angeles, the daughter of the Marquis Don Ygnacio, is visiting the market used by the African slaves. As the eclipse takes place, Sierva slips away from the slave who is looking after her and is bitten by a dog.
Back home at the Marquis’s villa, the slaves, led by Dominga, who has raised Sierva since she was a baby, celebrate the girl’s birthday in African fashion. In the middle of the ceremony, Sierva collapses and Dominga discovers the dog bite. The Marquis Don Ygnacio, Sierva’s father, appears and asks what is being celebrated. Dominga reminds him that it is his daughter’s birthday. Ygnacio tries to pull off the African necklaces that have been placed on his daughter, but she resists, terrified.
Meanwhile the Bishop has summoned the Abbess Josefa of the Convent of St Clare. He has heard that the dog that bit Sierva was rabid, that she is now infected and behaving as if she were possessed. Reluctantly the Abbess agrees to take Sierva into the care of the Convent until she is better. The Bishop instructs Delaura to take charge of the girl’s salvation.
The Marquis Don Ygnacio has summoned the doctor, Abrenuncio, to his house. While Abrenuncio examines Sierva, Ygnacio upbraids Dominga for not telling him about the dog bite sooner. Dominga responds that she thinks that Sierva’s distress is not rabies, but stems from the absence of a mother in her life. Alone, Ygnacio remembers his dead wife, Sierva’s mother Olalla. Abrenuncio appears. His diagnosis is laconic, Sierva may or may not have rabies, but if she does, there is nothing that can be done, except to wait and do everything possible to make her happy. A letter arrives from Abbess Josefa detailing the Bishop’s instructions that Sierva should be cared for in the Convent. Despite Sierva’s protests and Dominga and Abrenuncio’s foreboding, Ygnacio hopelessly acquiesces to the Bishop’s demand.
At the Convent of St Clare, Sierva is left alone to wait for the Abbess. While she waits, she talks with the birds and sings a Yoruba song. Josefa and the nuns appear and begin to strip Sierva of her finery. When they try to remove her necklaces, she resists so violently that Josefa and the nuns become convinced that she is possessed. She is locked in a cell.
In the cell she is cared for by Martina Laborde, a former nun who is
now imprisoned in the convent for her crime. Martina tells Sierva she should ask her demons to fly her out of the convent, because no one else will rescue her. Sierva believes she will be going home soon.
Delaura appears. From the first, Sierva wrong-foots him and he finds himself more and more engaged by her. Rebuffed by Sierva, Delaura discovers that his concern for her has grown into a passionate obsession: he is possessed.
The doctor, alone, reflects on the nature of possession. Delaura comes to the Bishop, worried by the feelings that Sierva is arousing in him. He tells of a dream that he has had, imagining Sierva alone in a winter landscape. Delaura doubts that Sierva is possessed, but the Bishop overrules him. Sierva, half-awake, dreams the same dream as Delaura. She is awakened by Martina, who wants to know more about Sierva’s demons: she wants their help escaping from the convent. They are disturbed by Delaura, who sends Martina away. Alone together, Delaura declares his love for Sierva. They recite the sonnets by Garcilaso de la Vega that he has been teaching her and grow closer and closer. Abbess Josefa appears and throws Delaura out. Martina begins to cut Sierva’s hair in preparation for her exorcism. Delaura reappears, but the nuns surround Sierva and drive him away.
The exorcism begins. Delaura attempts once more to rescue Sierva,
but is driven back again. Josefa comforts Sierva as the Bishop continues the exorcism. Sierva attacks him and is dragged back to her cell. There she hears the cry of a peacock, the sign of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love to whom Dominga dedicated her. She begs Oshun to take her soul. The dream she shared with Delaura becomes a reality.