'The House of Bernarda Alba' by Federico Garcia Lorca
Presented by Aluna Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company
‘The House of Bernarda Alba,’ now playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, is a fiercely powerful production from the great poet and dramatist Federico Lorca. Lorca writes with primitive earthy zest and often uses folk tales and ballads from his native Andalusia. As a poet first, Lorca’s play is brimming with imagery and potent language which the director, Solheil Parsa embraces with vigour.
This cast is stocked with talent and one would assume correctly that the title character Bernarda Alba, played by Beatriz Pizano, is the formidable actor. However, her extraordinary performance is equally matched by the dynamic work of Rhoma Spencer who plays the fiery maid Poncia.
Upon the death of Bernarda’s second husband, she demands years of mourning from her five tortured daughters. They have been submitted to years of rule and cruel manipulation from their mother who denies them the colour of the outside world and the passion of outside relationships. Ms. Pizano’s unrelenting voice of anger fills the theatre. Her dark flashing eyes help to choreograph the daughters as Von Trapp-like children. She makes superb use of a walking cane that sparkles with brass and punctuates with regal knocks on the floor.
As mentioned, Ms. Spencer plays the formidable role of Poncia, who acts as muse and confidante to Bernarda. She is also Bernarda’s conscience - much like a Shakespearean fool, who we know is not a fool at all. Poncia is also a bridge between the mother and daughters and the dueling daughters themselves. Her performance ranges from quiet anger to amusing comic effect. Her movements are all angular with boldly rolling hips and arrogant shoulders. She sometimes hides beneath the role of meek housemaid, but more often rails against Bernarda’s injustice, coming within inches of Bernarda’s anger, and the cane. At one point from Poncia, a simple “mm” is full of weight.
The oldest half-sister, Angustias, is played by a smoldering Lara Arabian who is engaged to the spirited Pepe. The sisters are jealous, none more so than Martirio, played by Liz Dar, who uses a sour face to perfection. The tension in her face is subtle at first and then explodes in raging self promotion. But it is Nyiri Karakas, as Adela, who is most rebellious of all. She refuses traditional mourning and has been discovered to have an affair with her sister’s fiancé. Teamed with Ms. Dar, the two offer a wealth of talent as they match each other’s characters with seething anger and unrelenting savage dialogue. Finally, Bernarda takes matters into her own hands which ignites the tragic end for the sisters.
As a poet, Lorca fills the play with imagery of passion, lust, and bloody despair. While the frustrated daughters watch the men working in the fields, we hear of wild stallions kicking their stalls and horses running free. One potent scene has the girls following the song of working men into a crescendo of orgasmic tension. Another powerful scene follows the horror of the daughters as they witness the bloody torture of a young unmarried girl accused of killing her illegitimate child. The motif of eyes and eyesight depicts Bernarda’s control over her daughters and defines Poncia’s skills in observation. At one point, Poncia proclaims, “my whole body is full of eyes – I watch.” In the end, Bernarda wants no tears.
A separate mention goes to Thomas Ryder Payne for an extraordinary sound design – funereal bells almost pound us into submission as directed by Bernarda. In the two scenes just mentioned, the sound rises and falls dramatically with the horrors of each scene. Booming knocks on the door reflect the challenge from the outside world.
Lorca’s work dwells on the conflict of generational divides and the problems of conformity. He was murdered at the age of thirty-six by Franco’s army due to his homosexuality. This luminous cast has embraced the challenge of Lorca’s beautiful lyricism and demonstrated the bitterness of a house of pride.
‘The House of Bernarda Alba’ by Federico Garcia Lorca
Director – Soheil Parsa
Performers – Beatriz Pizano, Lara Arabian, Theresa Cutknife, Liz Der, Soo Garay, Nyiri Karakas, Monica Rodriguez Knox, Rhoma Spencer
Lighting/Set design – Trevor Schwellnus
Sound design – Thomas Ryder Payne
Performances run through April 24, 2022.
Tickets – buddiesinbadtimes.com