By Tess Skoller
An unimposing stage and the gentle sounds of Spanish guitar greet you when you walk into the Atlantic Acting School and Bluebird Theatre’s production of The House of Bernarda Alba, but the plot that unfolds in the subsequent hour and 25 minutes is anything but simple.
The audience is introduced to the titular character and her five daughters – Angustias, Magdalena, Amelia, Martirio and Adela – as they are mourning the death of Bernarda’s second husband and father to four of her five children. It quickly becomes clear that Bernarda has maintained a strict household over not only her daughters, but also her elderly mother, Maria Josefa, who remains locked up because her presence embarrasses Bernarda. Carmo Bebiano’s performance as Bernarda Alba is a commanding matriarchal force as she can make her daughters, as well as her maid and confidant, Poncia, cower with a single glare. While Bernarda may think she has full command over her daughters through her rules, most notably about their romantic lives, it’s revealed that she has created an environment rife for petty arguments between the sisters that are fueled by even the smallest event.
The sisters’ arguments escalate once it is announced that the eldest and ugliest – yet wealthiest - sister, Angustias, is engaged to the town dreamboat Pepe el Romano. The jealous sisters discuss in various groupings their frustrations with the new couple. None are more enraged than the youngest and prettiest sister, Adela, who has secretly been having an affair with Pepe. As the play goes on, Adela’s despair and naïve visions of love and life outside the walls of her mother’s home become increasingly grandiose yet distant, which Jane Wirth played with every bit of drama this role warranted. The ending of the play only emphasizes Adela’s immaturity, but won’t give too much away.
The men in this play are only passing references and off-stage interactions as this all-female cast moves our story along. Poignantly, Poncia states in reference to the sisters, but applicable to all of the characters: “they are women without men.” Each of the female characters has their own reaction to not having a male figure in their world - and one seems to be more extreme than the next. Bernarda has become hardened from losing two husbands, despite raising five daughters; the sisters become engulfed in jealousy despite just having lost their own father, they need to flock to the nearest male figure despite the toll it takes on their relationships with one another; and Maria Josefa, an apparent widow, has a delusional monologue about how she’s going to get married. Without men even physically present, they still have a looming effect on these women’s lives.
The House of Bernarda Alba is a strong commentary on familial and female relationships, that if not tended to properly will lead to despair, as we unfortunately learn at the end of this play. Atlantic Acting School and Bluebird Theatre’s production of this show was simplistic in its scenery so that the deeper message of the show could be heard and it did not go unnoticed.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.