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Thursday, May 23, 2024

'The House of Bernarda Alba' Opened Wide Up

Author: Suzie Mozes

Visiting Instructor in Theatre Claudio Medeiros '90 flaunted the strength of the Theatre Department this past weekend in "The House of Bernarda Alba," a Spanish play written by Frederico Garcia Lorca.

Lorca, who challenged the oppression of women in the early 20th century, explores the relationships among the female characters within the play.

Using an "economy of language," Lorca creates potent emotional scenes as the despotic widowed mother, Bernarda Alba, confines her five daughters to their home for eight years in mourning out of respect for their late father.

According to Visiting Professor of Spanish Isabella Estrada, Lorca "brings together popular with elitist language," a synthesis that appeals to everyone.

The overwhelming talent of this year's senior theater majors persuaded Medeiros to opt for this extremely complex Spanish play. After seeing a production in Spain five years ago, he originally felt it would be "too hard" both for him to direct and for college students to perform.

After reviewing many scripts, however, Medeiros remembered the effect this play had on him and the thrill of "seeing a play about women with only women onstage." Moreover, he favored the idea of producing a Spanish play that accommodated the disproportionate number of female versus male actors in the senior class.

Medeiros wanted to design an ultra-minimalistic set; however, he realized that a very simple set would place extra responsibility on the shoulders of his actors. Without a detailed period set, the actors in the piece had little help in transporting themselves and their audience back to turn of the century Spain.

Medeiros worked with the cast for two intensive weeks at the end of January just doing "physical work," experimenting with movement impulses and "finding their bodies in space."

Working individually and as a group, they explored the differences between their real limits and the limits that they imposed upon themselves.

Together, the group found a common language, which built the strength of the ensemble.

While this minimalism was most evident in the set, the theme extended to the characters' costumes and lighting scheme as well. Clothing the actors in black and white, Medeiros stayed true to Lorca's stage directions for creating an effect of old-fashioned photographs onstage.

However, Medeiros deviated from Lorca's somewhat obvious casting — he cast males for the roles of Bernarda and Poncia. Surprisingly, this risky decision proved interesting and successful. Both of these characters are old-fashioned women lacking characteristic feminine gentleness. The male actors in these roles set up a strong contrast with the younger generation of daughters.

Visiting Lecturer in Theatre Christopher Marshall floored the audience in the title role of Bernarda. His masculinity commanded the attention that would be expected of his authoritative character.

As a result, his sex was not a distraction for the audience. Jennie Luening '02 probed the character of Adela and represented the youngest daughter's unfathomable passion. The extensive preparation done by Susie Carter '02.5 for portraying the sickly hunchback Martirio definitely heightened her performance. Parker Diggory '04, with bleached and teased hair towering above her head, hurled herself into her role as Maria Josefa, Bernarda's psychotic mother, by making bold choices with her intonation, movement and wild eyes.

Although a smaller part, Emily Wasserman '02 performed skillfully as Prudencia, who was attached to wires while eating at the Albas' dinner table, emphasizing the restrictions imposed on women by other women and by society. It was evident from his convincing female mannerisms and the use of his handkerchief that Joe Varca '02 fully committed himself to playing La Poncia, a maid who has long served as Bernarda's confidante.

With the exception of some unbelievable tears, the play was successfully delivered. While this story of women locked up in a house for eight years may seem preposterous to modern audiences, the director and cast aptly related its relevance to Middlebury College.

Emphasizing motifs such as repression of passionate desires, the play delved into the oppression that women still force upon each other, and scratched the surface of heterosexuality versus homosexuality. "The House of Bernarda Alba" proved to be a universally timeless piece.