``The House of Bernarda Alba' is Federico Garcia Lorca's mid-1930s forecast of fascist Spain, a political play without a mention of politics.
In the lives of women, imprisoned by the conventions and social rigidities of a Spanish village, he foresaw a day of dictatorship, soon to come, when a whole nation would be like the widowed Bernarda Alba's household.It would be a place without freedom, where each one watches the other, escapes are plotted and rebellion means disaster. This ``drama about women in the villages of Spain,' as Lorca subtitled it, is clearly that, but much more as well. The strong cast in this University of North Carolina at Greensboro production reveals many, but not all, of the layers of meaning Lorca so masterfully crowded into a play running less than two hours.
Ably directed by Imre Goldstein, a visiting professor this year at UNCG, the play comments provocatively on both culture and politics. It's well worth seeing.
Central to the drama is the duel between the clear-eyed servant and self-deluding mistress. The servant, La Poncia, boldly and strongly played by Donna Baldwin-Morrow, is earthy and realistic. She dislikes her mistress, yet loyally tries to warn her of what will happen if she shuts up her five daughters for eight years of mourning.
Jennifer D'Arville's Bernarda, just widowed for the second time, is regal, commanding, sure of herself and her power. D'Arville plays her as more than a caricature, however, letting the audience glimpse the feelings she won't express.
The daughters snipe and pick at each other. When Kate Warren's good ``first servant' wonders why they're that way, Baldwin-Morrow's La Poncia explains they are simply women without men. And what schemes they devise to meet the one man who comes to see the eldest and richest, Dana McCain's Augustias. Both Martirio, ably played by April J. Callahan, and Adela, the youngest and liveliest, want him too. Lauren Ellis gives Adela a girlish zest for life and a woman's passion.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of this prison-like house was not as oppressive as it might have been. Perhaps it was the spaciousness of the set, or perhaps because contemporary women find it hard to depict the plight of these rural women of a different culture and a distant time.
Vibrant active characters, like La Poncia and Bernarda, stood out, perhaps because they are more modern in feeling. So, too, did Bernarda's aged and insane mother. Mary K. Roland managed to find both the pathos and the comedy in this role, demonstrating another of Lorca's sympathetic insights.