LUST, BLOOD AND MONEY--now there's a trio of motivations sure to keep an audience spellbound (not to mention attract attention to a review). Spanish poet/ju playwright Garcia Lorca's characters learn which of the three is most powerful in his darkly erotic "The House of Bernarda Alba."
GALA Hispanic Theater opens its second season at the Lansburgh Cultural Center with Lorca's play, and under Hugo Medrano's direction Washington's Latin American theater company provides an atmospheric evening, stylish in staging and substance.
Written in 1936, "Bernarda Alba" is a forceful tragedy about the inequities between men and women, about repressed feelings and false appearances, a remarkably prescient cry for female freedom written at a time and in a land hostile to the concept.
As the imposing matriarch Bernarda Alba embarks on eight years of highly public mourning for her husband, her five daughters resign themselves to the fact that they too will be imprisoned in this domestic purgatory until released by the dubious freedom of marriage, embroidering linens for the weddings of others, heads covered with black veils. "That's what women are for," Bernarda snaps when one of her daughters complains. "Then cursed be all women," says the rebellious one.
Alba's estate has been willed to the eldest daughter, sharp-featured Angustias, who is immediately courted by the dashing Pepe el Romano. Romano, who is never seen but hotly discussed, is having it both ways, secretly carrying on with youngest daughter Adela. A chain reaction of jealous tensions ensues, climaxed by one of those pellmell tragic endings Shakespeare was so fond of.
Medrano's thoughtful direction allows for a natural interplay among the sisters. Joan Kelley plays Poncia, the canny servant and real mistress of the house, with cunning. Jewell Robinson, as Bernarda Alba is stern and imperious, but her one-note overwrought performance reveals little else of the woman who so dominates her daughters.
GALA has created an enveloping environment for Lorca's drama. Arches have been constructed in the cavernous space to suggest wealthy Alba's gloomy, roomy house. A servant scrubs the floor, the thunderous sound of flamenco dancing comes from another room, the audience is seated in high-backed chairs all around the room, even the air is scented with church incense and cooking aromas. Xenie Brown's black mourning dresses are beautiful and authentic-looking. Although it's unclear just what the sporadic flamenco dancing and singing are meant to represent, Manolo Rocca's Spanish guitar and singing enhance Lorca's frequently musical writing.
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA -- At GALA Hispanic Theater through November 11.