New York City Theater
Although we get to know the lusty women in black who inhabit the tomb-like house in “Bernarda Alba,” we barely get a bite before the plate is snatched away. “My pains, mother, are not pains of hunger / My pains, mother, are the pains of love” sings one of the virginal daughters of a termagant parent who keeps them locked up after the death of their father. Fearing scandal while maneuvering to marry them off one by one, Bernarda (an effective Phylicia Rashad) is a mom from hell.
Michael John LaChiusa’s version of Garcia Lorca’s powerful play, “The House of Bernarda Alba” has fiery direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele and bursts with rhythmic Spanish piquancy. Flashing fans, snapping fingers, clapping hands, blazing eyes – body parts in motion counteract the stifling atmosphere of women hungering for fulfillment.
LaChiusa’s pounding yet lovely Flamenco-infused score will add to his reputation as one of the theater’s rising stars. Each daughter has her distinctive song of thwarted passion, each contrasted with a chilling veneer of stillness.
But the mood disappears when drama crosses the fine line into melodrama. A too-literal stallion-mare rutting accomplished by foot-stompers on either side of the stage brings unintended laughter. And, despite the pitiful brooding, somehow we feel unconnected.
Instead of enlarging the original material, the musical diminishes and constricts. The ending, however, is startling. A formidable locked door, when opened, reveals a halo of light. Other worlds are out there, somewhere.
-- David Rosenberg
March 22, 2006