BACK STAGE WEST
October 23, 1997
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA
at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
In Federico Garcia Lorca's brutally single-minded final play, he created in the tyrannical widow Bernarda Alba one of the most irredeemable authoritarian demons this side of Richard III, but without even a deformity to explain her malevolence. (Instead, adding salt to the wounds, Lorca gives one of Bernarda's five perversely unmarried daughters the hunchback.) Written at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, The House of Bernarda Alba persuasively personifies Fascist intolerance as a kind of vampirism which survives by sucking the vitality out of the young.
In Margarita Galban's new production for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, the play emerges with piercing if not quite stirring clarity. The lack of fuss starts at the top, with the studiously impassive, iconic performance of Carmen Zapata (who co-translated the original with the late Michael Dewell) as Bernarda Alba, with Estela Scarlata's buffed-white courtyard set, lit bright as a theme park by Robert Fromer, and with costumer Carlos Brown's muted palette of blackish mourning shades. It's a brilliantly economical stage picture that nearly tells the story itself: Bernarda, whose eldest daughter among five is pushing 40, is determined to enforce on her household an eight-year period of strict mourning (and chastity) for its late patriarch, leaving her and her daughters to sit and peck at each other like a murder of jealous crows.
The cast rehearsed both in English and Spanish, but overwhelming demand for the latter version foreshortened the English-language performances; all the rest will be in Spanish. Indeed, it's not hard for this Anglophone to imagine how the play's rhythms, which here seem overly declamatory, might fare better in a more musical language than English. That said, despite some kinks in the pacing, there's not a bad performance on the stage: There is the formidable foolery of Edith Diaz, the wounded gravity of Alejandra Flores, the inward despair of Denise Blasor, the sunny passivity of Cecilia Bogran, the pinched practicality of Eugenia Cross, the contrary passion of Erica Ortega, the wry smile of Lucki Wheating, and the frighteningly truthful old-hag ramblings of Margarita Stocker.
If this seems an overly frosty House, it does manage to stun us--and stick in our minds--with its cumulative malevolent force. Like the discipline of many a totalitarian regime, this production administers its horrors with chilling tidiness.
"The House of Bernarda Alba," presented by Wells Fargo and the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in collaboration with the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department at the L.A. Theatre Center, Theatre 3, 514 S. Spring St., downtown L.A. Sept. 25-Nov. 2. (213) 225-4044.