The House of Bernarda Alba
By Federico García Lorca
A New Version by Emily Mann
Directed by Nadia Garzón
Starring Ibis Enid Rodriguez, Leonor Velosa, and Lisa Morales
Seminole State College
Lake Mary, FL
Fortune is fleeting, and in this tense and claustrophobic tale its already two miles down the road. Senior Bernardo Alba is dead, and his stiff wife Bernarda (Rodriguez) declares eight years of mourning for him. The Victorians could wrap up mourning in 12 months or so, and Bernarda’s rule makes life tough for her five virginal daughters. They range in age from 20 to 39 and you can do the math. Bernardo left all his money to the eldest Angustias (Morales). She’s the ugly one and needs the most help and at 39 the toughest to sell in a society obsessed with descendants keeping the family lineage alive. Men abound, but working class is too déclassé. Laboring blood would aid the gene pool, but it removes any chance of moving back to Madrid. Advice and commentary come from housekeeper La Poncia (Velosa), but to no avail. By law, tradition and control of the food sources Mom rules and she ain’t taking any back talk, no siree. The hottest point of rebellion lies in young Adela (Francesca Toledo). She wears a sexy green dress, ignores mom, and has an affair with Angustias’ s unseen paramour Pepe. It’s a bit of a soap opera, and there’s a good operatic ending.
Lorca draws some sharp contrasts about his pre-war Spanish society: the obsession with status and mating correctly clearly limits everyone’s choice, and in a small town with poor transportation options for marriage are limited to start with. Next there’s the elaborate rituals, first introduced to set the king and nobles apart from the prols. If you didn’t know the formalities, you were obviously working class and should go empty the chamber pots. Finally, there’s the obsession with sex and how not to have any unless a tall order of rules gets checked off in the right sequence. Like many conservatives, Bernarda believes the old ways are much better, and any sexual innovation limits the possible. Then there are the wonderful lines that survived translation: Adela admits “Sometimes I love under clothing” and a man is identified as “A lizard between her breasts.” With wonderful words and brutal analysis of his homeland Lorca traps all these concepts in one place, and fillets them for our consideration.
As to the production, Rodriguez certainly delivers the stern, no nonsense head mistress role out on stage. Your sympathy goes to Velosa’s long suffering housekeeper and her assistant Criada (Angel Cotto) who can never clean to her standards of the house. The daughters mostly form a giggly swirl of girlishness waiting to escape while Ms. Toledo alternates between a young girl and a possibly mad one. All float across a simple set of columns and pillars: the story is classily confined to a single space, just as these women are confined by Bernarda’s impossible standards. Their life only offers rough entertainment and sweaty, working class heroes and that looks like a better life than all the formality and lace. Yes, these are the tribulations of rich and semi-famous. And while not as sympathetic as the trials of the working class, they are real nonetheless.
For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/theatre/boxoffice.htm