Review: The House Of Bernarda Alba is bloody good theatre

THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA by Federico García Lorca, translated by David Johnston (Aluna Theatre/Modern Times Stage Company). Runs to April 24 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander). Pwyc-$30. buddiesinbadtimes.com. Rating: NNNN


Seven years ago, Aluna Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company presented a riveting production of Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, which made several end-of-year top 10 lists and won a batch of awards. Now the companies have reunited to present García Lorca’s final play and the third in his so-called “rural trilogy,” The House Of Bernarda Alba. Directed once again by Soheil Parsa, it’s another theatrical triumph.

After her second husband’s death, Bernarda Alba (Beatriz Pizano) bitterly declares her household will observe eight years of mourning. But her five daughters, four by her second husband and one by her first, are having none of it. The eldest, Angustias (Lara Arabian), is an heiress and is engaged to Pepe, a young man from the village. What the judgemental Bernarda doesn’t know (or doesn’t want to know), however, is that some of her other daughters also have connections to Pepe.

And then there are the two dissatisfied household domestics, Poncia (Rhoma Spencer) and the nameless Maid (Soo Garay), who have their ears to the ground in the village and know more about what’s going on than the rigid and upright mistress of the house.

What follows, in a swift 90 minutes, has more substance and dramatic heft than an entire season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

After two years of plot-based quarantine TV watching, it might take a while to adjust to the play’s style. García Lorca works in big, bold emotional colours, with lots of declarative symbols and imagery (Blood Wedding featured a talking moon, for instance). At the preview performance I attended, a few audience members nervously giggled during tense scenes. That made sense; laughter is a valid response when confronted with overwhelming emotions.

What emerges clearly from Parsa’s excellent production is how sensitive the playwright was to the unspoken desires of women. The Alba sisters seethe with resentment and longing, and their wants are suggested by Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound design, which includes the lusty noise of men working in the fields and, most effectively, a stallion kicking and bucking at the house.

Trevor Schwellnus’s scenography serves the production well, especially his use of light and shadow to hint at the story’s psychological depths. Angela Thomas’s costumes help establish the women’s class and age; when one daughter dispenses with black it registers as a refreshing bid for freedom.

Pizano’s Bernarda never smiles, occasionally mutters to herself inaudibly (nice touch) and walks with the help of a cane, her hand grasping it firmly. She is truly, as one character says at the top of the show, “the terror of the whole house.” Pizano never loses focus, her matriarch the symbol of dangerous pride and repression.

Spencer’s Poncia – who’s the same age as Bernarda – contrasts vividly with the other woman, and the actor exudes a down-to-earth warmth, particularly when she’s singing a folk song. Garay brings a nervous, excitable edge to her Maid that helps prepare us for a possible tragedy.

While the five siblings works well together, individually they’re a little hard to distinguish. Liz Der’s Martirio stands out with her festering anger and bitterness, while Arabian brings dignity to her unsuspecting Angustias and Nyiri Karakas clearly, if a little unsubtly, suggests Adela’s desire to escape.

This is a true ensemble work, a haunting marriage of text, direction, design and performance. Perhaps Parsa, Aluna and Modern Times will eventually stage Yerma, the other play in García Lorca’s trilogy. I just hope we don’t have to wait seven years for it.

@glennsumi

Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content