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Review: The House of Bernarda Alba

An iron-fisted matriarch’s control of her daughters vividly evokes a repressive society


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The Tigermen Den is an interesting choice of venue for staging The House of Bernarda Alba, a play written in 1936 by poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, during the Spanish Civil War. The tiny, rustic space simulates the claustrophobic atmosphere where five unmarried sisters are sequestered by their heartless mother Bernarda (Kathleen McManus) within a tightly controlled social system.

  Produced by In Good Company, a theater company with a mission to tell women's stories, Lorca's play continues to be relevant and could similarly depict the subjugation of women by repressive cultures across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

  The opening scene takes place at the funeral of patriarch Antonio Maria Benavides where family members are dressed in black as church bells sound. The Andalusian countryside is impoverished and beggars arrive at the door looking for scraps. Local custom dictates that mourning continue for eight years.

  Servants Prudencia (Jennifer Pagan), who loved Antonio, and Poncia (Sherri Marina) fear and despise the widow Bernarda, who rules the house with an iron hand. Bernarda is so cruel, she imprisons her 80-year-old mother Maria Josefa (Carol Sutton), who tries to escape and return to her old village and marry.

  Though the daughters are of marriageable age, only the eldest, Angustias (Lisa Boyett Luongo), claims an inheritance. Without wealth, the younger sisters are without suitors and forbidden to marry below their station. In effect, they have no future.

  Sexually frustrated, the women peer from an upstairs window at harvest workers, "tight as a sheaf." Even the servants seem envious of a neighboring "loose" woman abducted and carried off by men on horseback, returning at dawn with a garland of flowers in her hair.

  An available suitor, Pepe el Romano, could free one of the daughters from the miserable and hopeless existence. The sisters viciously turn against one another, vying for him.

  "I don't want my body to dry up like yours," Adela (Rebecca Greaves), the youngest and prettiest, tells Angustias.

  McManus is ferocious and unyielding as Bernarda, without a shred of maternal affection. Bernarda and Poncia's long relationship provides ongoing tension while the daughters spar. A spark of hope from either Adela or Angustias might have helped offset the grim scenario.

  Artist Daphne Loney expands the visual dimensions of the Tigermen's theatrical space with protographic projections, touches of Spanish lace, Arabic arches, marionettes, shadow puppets and strains of classical guitar.

  In Good Company was co-founded by Rebecca Frank, who directed this show, and Eleanor Bernstein, who plays Martirio, to foster collaboration with women artists.


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