The Gala Hispanic Theatre has shown a certain boldness in producing "The House of Bernarda Alba," confronting a play that is virtually a cliche' of Mediterranean passions and repressions, not to mention a staple of every girls' school drama department because of its call for an all female cast. The production evocatively conjures an atmosphere of impending doom, but lacks the actresses to complete the concept.

Director Hugo Medrano has turned the theater's cavernous space into a house of eavesdroppers, lining the audience along the walls like guests at a Latin social event, and locating various rooms around the space. The crazy grandmother takes a bath in one corner; one of the "five ugly daughters" stares out the window of another. The air is heavy with unhappiness, with meanness and with the sexual hysteria of idle women who aren't allowed to do anything but wait for husbands to turn up.

Bernarda Alba (Jewell Robinson) is the imperious mother of the brood, demanding and commanding, obsessed with appearances and social position. The household is mourning the death of her husband, which has also provided the 39-year-old youngest daughter with an inheritance attractive enough to lure a 25-year-old socially acceptable man to propose marriage. But two of the other daughters are in love with him, and with an obvious sense of doom Federico Garcia Lorca's tragedy unfolds.

Robinson's Bernarda is imposing but superficial, and the rest of the cast is keyed to her hollow dramatics. Leonor Chaves as the hunchback Martirio is more substantial and intriguing, and Karen Roper as the oldest sister, Angustias, reveals her basic pettiness and the insularity resulting from her over-protected life.

The addition of flamenco guitar and dance provides a throbbing counterpoint, but no amount of music can hide the fact that as the play escalates rapidly to its fatal conclusion, the actresses show that their emotional wells are dry. Thus high passions careen into mawkishness, and the tragedy turns flat.

"The House of Bernarda Alba," by Federico Garcia Lorca, produced by Gala Hispanic Theatre, directed by Hugo Medrano, lighting by Dierdre Lavrakas, costumes Xenie Brown, set by Medrano, with Jewell Robinson, Sylecia Janutolo, Karen Roper, Leonor Chaves, Laura Gianarelli, Janet Antonelli, Ramona D'Agostino, Joan Kelly, Ethel Minor, Natalia Monteleon, Manolo Rocca, Estefania Neira, and Esteban Quintero.

At the Gala Hispanic Theatre in the Lansburgh Arts Center through Nov. 11.