Spanish suds

The House of Bernarda Alba

By Federico Garcia Lorca
Directed by D.A.G. Burgos
Creative Artists Laboratory
Trilogy Theatre
341 W. 44th St. (316-0400)
Non-union production (closes October 10)
Review by James A. Lopata

Strip the poetry out of a Lorca play, try to capture as much of the humor in the script as possible, throw in some really dramatic yelling scenes, add some pre-show and intermission salsa music and what have you got? A rural Spanish Days of Our Lives.

The plot of The House of Bernarda Alba reads like a soap opera: a middle-aged woman prepares for marriage with a young man who wants her for her money, even while he is carrying on an affair with her younger sister. When the affair is discovered and the younger sister is told--falsely--that her lover has been shot, she kills herself.

What gives the play its solid place in world dramatic literature? The oppressive force of the mother, who lords over her Greek chorus of daughters, like a vulture hovering over her prey. Where Lorca's provincial world is steeped in the momentum of outdated tradition, this production was surface.

When an engagement ring is displayed to a visiting neighbor, the reply "Three pearls! In my day, pearls meant tears" was delivered with all the cattiness of a line from The Women. While this choice and others like it could make the script seem more accessible, it belittled the depth and richness of a play by a dramatist who was committed to bringing more poetry to the stage. Language such as "I want my breast bursting with pomegranate. I love him!" rang false.

The confrontation scenes held the greatest weight and had the strongest appeal. The fight over who stole the picture of the young boy from the betrothed daughter's bedroom resonated at the first screamed "Answer me!" from Bernarda as she stomped her cane on the floor. The fiery Tanya Klein as Bernada Alba rightfully commanded everyone's attention. Klein centered the best of the scenes. Becky Leonard handled the put-upon servant Gabriella with special finesse--as shown in how she held the wine in her mouth after a long day--not as a joy, but as a necessity. Mindy Cassle (Poncia), Patricia LoPiccolo (Better/Maria Josefa/Prudencia), Justine Stevenson (Amelia), Chantel Gonalez (Adela), Natasha Graf (Martirio), Carlie McCarthy (Magdelena), Kara Vedder (Angustias) all put in adequate performances.

Director D.A.G. Burgos took a distinct point of view by cutting the funeral poetry and in de-emphasizing mood and cadence of Lorca's stylized script in favor of a more contemporary approach. Ironically, the attempt to make the play more accessible made it harder to sit through..

Michael Jabert's whitewashed set and the uncredited black-and-white costumes stylized the production as much as possible.The simple austerity of the setting, had it been extended to the directing and acting, might have made for a more powerful evening of theatre.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Performance: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 1998 James A. Lopata