New York City Theater
"The House of Bernarda Alba"
Baruch Performing Arts Center, Manhattan
The stunning production of “The House of Bernarda Alba,” now at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, is a worthy multi-cultural project, reflecting as it does New York’s polyglot population. With its all-woman cast, the National Asian American Theatre Company takes on a famed Spanish poet. It is Garcia Lorca’s searing piece about class, caste and oppression. Thus we have Asian-American women as Spanish daughters on a New York stage—a multi-cultural, multi-racial triumph.
Under the direction of Chay Yew (who also adapted the piece), it is a stark, stylized rendition of the story—as much dance as drama. The bare stage is relieved only by straight-back chairs and an overhanging flowering branch (calling to mind a Japanese print). The performers are clothed in severe black—high-necked shirts, long skirts, unshod feet. The entire cast is a flawless ensemble of featured performers backed by a Greek (or, rather, Spanish or Asian-American) chorus.
“The House of Bernarda Alba” is the story of a merciless upper-class Spanish matron and her five daughters. On her husband’s death she declares an eight-year mourning period, locking her daughters behind doors, protecting them from the lower-class village louts. She is concerned, above all, with appearances and her status in the community. “I don’t care if she throws herself in,” Bernarda says at one point, referring to a daughter threatening suicide by drowning. “I care if the neighbors see her from the window.” Nevertheless, she betroths her oldest daughter, Angustias, to the villager Pepe (whom her youngest daughter Adela loves). The consequences, ultimately, are tragic.
Though essentially an ensemble piece, individual performances are noteworthy—namely, Ching Valdes-Aran in the title role and Natsuko Ohama as the betrothed Angustias. While Valdes-Aran plays a Bernarda chiseled of stone, Ohama is by contrast an Angustias with a range of emotions. Vivid performances also from Kati Kuroda as the maidservant and Ali Ahn, Carmen M. Herlihy, Sue Jean Kim, and Maile Holck as the other daughters.
In all, a fine interpretation of this memorable piece.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 2, 2007