THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA
New Age Hispanic American Repertory Theater
at Zebra Crossing Theatre
There are several signs of trouble that immediately greet you when you arrive to see the New Age Hispanic American Theater's production of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, presented in collaboration with Zebra Crossing.
The first sign is Bernarda's five mourning daughters scattered throughout the theater like living sculptures. The second is in the program, which provides neither a cast of characters nor the actors who play them, but insists you should experience the play as you would a film. New Age has never heard of opening credits? Instead of a list, you find a long-winded, masturbatory explanation of Garcia Lorca's intentions by the play's director, Rolando Arroyo-Sucre.
As it turns out, this production of Bernarda Alba has little to do with the quiet tensions of sculpture or mime, less to do with the fluidity or accessibility of film, and much to do with Arroyo-Sucre's ego. This guy does it all--direction, costume, scene, and lighting design, as well as two drawings for the program. In his Bernarda Alba there are flickers of good ideas, but they seldom relate to each other. More often, there are just plain bad ideas imposed on the production by Arroyo-Sucre's solipsistic reasoning.
In his program notes, Arroyo-Sucre writes: "Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in the theater, the information released to the media regarding The House of Bernarda Alba does not reflect in any way my perception of the work of Garcia Lorca. Therefore, I believe it my duty to clarify for you the values underlying this production. . . . My interpretive perspective is strikingly different from that with which most theater scholars and directors in America approach his work." No one will argue that Arroyo-Sucre's vision of Garcia Lorca isn't unique. His Garcia Lorca writes not about Spain or real-life concerns, repression, or passion, but "of liberation, of considering options, alternatives and accepting what is, instead of declaring what should be." Huh? If we accept what is, then why talk about liberation at all? An oxymoronic thesis of a conforming liberation is sure to result in a novel presentation of Garcia Lorca.
Bernarda Alba is a classic tragedy with heavy Greek overtones (which Arroyo-Sucre did figure out). Garcia Lorca's Bernarda is a domineering matriarch who rules her daughters' lives, making emotional demands that stifle their freedom and sexuality. The eldest and wealthiest daughter, Angustias (which means "anguishes") is described by Garcia Lorca through a servant's dialogue as a sickly girl with narrow hips. Her money, however makes her attractive to Pepe El Romano, the handsome young suitor who wreaks havoc on the Alba home. While courting Angustias, Pepe has an affair with Angustias's younger sister Adela, a free spirit who still believes in love. Adela slowly becomes the center of the approaching tragedy, of which Garcia Lorca gives us glimpses throughout the play.
Arroyo-Sucre's Bernarda barely resembles the playwright's. She is neither strong nor intimidating--she leaves a vacuum where there should be a reservoir of tension. Maxx Cumby is certainly a regal enough presence, but this Bernarda is so aimless we feel neither anger nor sympathy for her. We simply don't care. Renee Lockett-Lawson is ill cast as Angustias. She has obvious talent, but she is much too robust for the roleher sturdiness completely undermines the character's intended fragility. Vivianne Plazas is also miscast as Adela; she is much too girlish when she should be sensual. Adela should be a source of suspense, but Plazas is much too stiff.
There are occasional lights, particularly Lisa M. Duncan's Magdalena, and in general, the multiethnic casting is a nice touch. But more often than not, Arroyo-Sucre has given these women annoying and somewhat cliched instructions: everybody lifts their glasses simultaneously at dinner; the servant Poncia is spread-legged every time she sits for no apparent reason, and there's no good reason for her nasal whine; and the servant's arms are often akimbo--not with her hands on her hips, but in an unnatural open-palm fashion on her upper buttocks.
Worse, the pacing is painfully slow, a kind of somnambulist theater of no emotion. In a good reading of Bernarda Alba, Adela's suicide is a wrenching emotional climax, but in Arroyo-Sucre's version, it is an unforeseeable, isolated act.
It's certainly admirable when a director pushes the parameters of a script and brings new insights to it, but it's rarely to a director's credit to push his own ideas at the expense of the playwright's.
This thing simply doesn't work. For Zebra Crossing, which invited New Age and lent the company its resources, this is an unfortunate production. Zebra Crossing has a steady record of quiet courage. It's simply too bad Bernarda Alba came to visit.