The House of Bernarda Alba
By Federico García Lorca. Adaptation by David Hare. Dir. Kristin Gehring. With ensemble cast. Circle Theatre.
With her 1940s-style hair rolls and wide, better-to-eat-you-with eyes, Maggie Speer’s Bernarda Alba looks ready for a one-woman staging of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? For their part, the actors playing Bernarda’s five unwed daughters, whom the tyrannical matriarch has consigned to an eight-year mourning period for their dead dad, shout and hurl themselves about like a gaggle of lusty Salem witches. With most plays, this would all be an indication of far too much scenery chomping. But with Lorca’s drama about a mother so bound by social dictates she’d rather cane her girls than see them shame the family, Gehring’s melodramatic stranglehold on the text is much more satisfying than a restrained hand.
We might not buy the daughters’ tears or their tragic end, when Bernarda’s unbending values force the women to fight over the one man within reach—to deadly results. But in Lorca’s symbol-laden world, the semblance of tears, oddly, can be as fitting as their reality. Yet Gehring’s satisfactory production could’ve been a fine one if she’d tried some tonal variation; as is, it’s like a spirited but not terribly refined pianist who plays either loud or louder. Without musical rises and falls, Lorca’s stark symbolism and pared-down poetic dialogue can sound repetitive and reductive. Nonetheless, Gehring doesn’t shy away from Lorca’s simmering sexuality or his idea that lidding it can only result in an explosive mess; so when these women go for each other’s throats, we sense how badly they need to get some.—Novid Parsi