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THEATER REVIEW Bernarda Alba and Her House
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2015-12-16

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Playwright: adapted by Robert Eric Shoemaker from the play by Federico Garcia Lorca. At: Poetry Is productions at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 270-577-7782; www.poetryis.org; $20. Runs through: Jan. 3

There's this twice-married widow with five daughters, you see. The girls are all of an age to marry—indeed, some well past their prime childbearing years—but their proud mother refuses to consider an alliance with a family of inferior station. Instead, she keeps her offspring under vigilance as strict as that of a convent. All that this accomplishes, though, is to further sensitize the three generations of cloistered women to the mystery aroused by men passing their windows—curiosity transforming the eldest sister's betrothed into a priapal fantasy shared among her cohabitants.

It's easy for cold-blooded English-speaking audiences to dismiss this dysfunctional clan with a scornful, "Well, that's 1930s Spain for you!" After all, haven't the warm countries always been presumed to be writhing in the coils of repressed passions forbidden our phlegmatic peers? Robert Eric Shoemaker's relocation of Federico Garcia-Lorca's drama from rural Andalusia to the bayou regions of Louisiana—while not entirely foiling Yankee prejudices ( "Well, that's the Deep South for you!" )—reduces the denial reflex significantly.

Our matriarch is now Mrs. Bernadette Talbot-White, a woman of rigid principles befitting a society where outward appearances define the status of not only individual citizens, but their blood relations as well. The long-deceased Talbot sire left his only child, Augustina, a generous inheritance, enabling her ( despite being nearly 40 years old ) to be courted by young Beau Frederick III, her junior by over a decade. Rumors circulate, however, of this future husband meeting in secret with youngest sister Adelaide, who would gladly embrace the role of adulteress and risk the wrath of a disapproving community that does not shrink from violence as a means of correction.

A concept difficult for modern playgoers to grasp is that of the full-out-take-no-prisoners emotion—sometimes called "duende"—mandatory to interpretation of Lorca's aesthetic, without which the characters' extreme actions quickly plummet into camp burlesque. Fortunately, this Poetry Is production ( staged in association with the DCASE Lorca In America project ) has assembled a company of intuitive actors capable of infusing the Creole dialects and colloquial vocabulary with the sensual darkness necessary to generate the requisite catharsis.

The results make for a tightly integrated 90-minute spectacle combining instrumental music, body percussion, song, dance, poetry and the spoken word in pursuit of ( as Lorca himself once said ) "lifting the text off the page and making it human."


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