by Lynn on April 15, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Playing live and in person at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until April 24, 2022.

Written by Federico Garcia Lorca

Translation by David Johnston

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Lighting and set design by Trevor Schwellnus

Costume design by Angela Thomas

Sound and composition by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Lara Arabian

Theresa Cutknife

Liz Der

Soo Garay

Nyiri Karakas

Beatriz Pizano

Monica Rodriguez Knox

Rhoma Spencer

A stark and stunningly beautiful production of a harrowing play about repression, revenge and desire.

The Story. Bernarda Alba has just buried her second husband. The strong-willed Bernarda Alba demands that her five daughters observe a period of mourning for eight years. There is jealousy among the sisters because Angustias, the eldest daughter from Bernarda Alba’s first marriage, received a large inheritance from her father and the other four daughters, from the second marriage, only inherited a small amount of money from their father.

Bernarda Alba rules her daughters with a tight fist, demanding they adhere to her strict way of life. As the oldest only Angustias will be allowed to marry. She is courted by Pepe el Romano, a younger, eligible man of the town, whom the other sisters lust after. The sisters know that Pepe is only after Angustias’ money. He is having a not-so-secret affair with the youngest daughter, Adela. Bernarda Alba’s all-encompassing hold on her daughters demands that they live respectable lives to prevent any gossip in the small town; that they adhere to family traditions; and they forgo any hope of living an independent life. Sex, lust, repression and desire rule that family.  

The Production. A production directed by Soheil Parsa is always distinctive, elegant, beautiful and serves the play without any compromise. The House of Bernarda Alba is a case in point. The set by Trevor Schwellnus is spare but evocative. A high-backed ornate wood chair stands in a rectangle of light centre stage. It is the centre of power. It is where Bernarda Alma will sit and command her family. All other chairs will be smaller with practically no back. They look like children’s chairs. The design is of course deliberate and brilliant in establishing Bernarda Alba’s power over everybody.  Schwellnus also designed the stark, moody lighting that has created a house of shadows, murky light and gloom. Terrific.

Symbolic of the repressed emotions and raging lust in those daughters is a stallion kicking at his enclosure to get out and run wild. The sound of that kick in Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound scape is like thunder and not just a thud on a wall. The horse is desperate to get out of its enclosure, as the daughters are desperate to get out of that oppressive house.

The jealousy among the sisters over Pepe el Romano erupts in intense rages. As Adela, Nyiri Karakas is fearless and reckless. Nothing will keep her from running after Pepe. She has the power of youth, beauty and fearlessness to use in challenging her sisters. As Angustias, Lara Arabian projects the confidence of ‘having the man’ but comments about Angustias’ age, lack of beauty and sickliness create uncertainty. You know that she is jealous of her youngest sister with reason. Rhoma Spencer as Poncia the maid is watchful, perceptive and dispenses advice to the daughters. She also wrangles with Bernarda Alba while the daughters can’t.

At the centre of it all is Bernarda Alba and she is a powerhouse as played by Beatriz Pizano. As shimmering with sexual desire as her daughters are, that is how repressed Bernarda Alba is. They let loose with a fierce temper, she clenches her jaw and fist. Her voice is a controlled rumble. They are agile and nimble with the rush of lust. Bernarda Alba is ridged, her back is ram-rod straight. She walks with a long walking stick, not because she needs it, but because the use of it suggests power and danger. Beatriz Pizano gives a towering performance of this compelling, mesmerizing character.

Soheil Parsa’s production delicately, gradually grips the audience and doesn’t let them go until the last fateful second. Parsa has created a production that is both beautiful and compelling.  

Comment. This is Federico Garcia Lorca’s last play. He was assassinated two months (1936) later by Franco forces because of his political views and homosexuality. He observed the grip of tradition of gender inequality in Spain; how men ruled families and how women were expected to be subservient. Even a woman as demanding and commanding as Bernarda Alba was held under the thumb of men. Having babies was the main job of a woman. One assumed that having a son was paramount. In that regard Bernarda Alba fell down ‘in her duties.’ One believes that this was a disappointment in her life as well—having a son was a duty. So she would make up for such a ‘lapse’ by ruling and controlling her family in any way possible. Control is everything to Bernarda Alba. It would not occur to her to let her daughters live their own life. If she every wanted to live her own life, we never know. Duty, revering tradition, and living according to rigid dictates was everything in maintaining order.

Fantastic production. Translator David Johnston has compacted Garcia Lorca’s play into a brisk 90 minutes. Soheil Parsa makes us hold our breaths for all of it. We get to exhale at the end.

A co-production of Aluna Theatre and Modern Times Stage Company.

Plays until April 24, 2022.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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1 Harold Povilaitis April 16, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Thank you, Lynn, for a superb review of such an outstanding production !