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The second Lorca play at the Loeb this season, The House of Bernarda Alba, is a stark drama polished down to essentials. It contains the essence of Lorca's dramatic technique, though poetry is much less prominent here than in Blood Wedding, which ran on the main stage earlier this fall. Happily, the North House production of Bernarda Alba preserves Lorca's restrained tone; it is a remarkably balanced production of consistent good quality.
Director Christie Dickason was unusually fortunate in her casting. Jacqueline French as the matriarch Bernarda and Ruth Edinburg as Poncia, her maid, are both professional actresses, and the rest of the cast match their performance.
Bernarda, newly-widowed, is a woman who though she has borne and raised five children, remains a virgin: neither love nor motherhood has touched her heart. As a petty Spanish aristocrat, she is obsessed with the duty to maintain the honor of her House by holding her daughters to eight years of strict mourning for their father. But as often happens in Lorca, the Fates, working through human passions, have decreed tragedy. The House which Bernarda must keep unstained (alba) is marked for ruin.
Since Lorca's play is written for an all-female cast, we never see Pepe, the handsome suitor who drives the play to its bloody conclusion. He asks the hand of Angustias, the eldest and richest daughter, a shriveled 39-year-old spinster. At the same time, he carries on an affair with Adela, the youngest Alba daughter and the only beauty in the family. Another sister, the hunchback Martirio, is also in love with Pepe. The rest can be left to the imagination of the reader.
Gilian Shallcross admirably brings out the envy and despair of the unappealing Angustias. Pat Collinge as Martirio controls a part that could easily be overplayed, and Anne Crawford and Mary Lambert do a commendable job of defining two other sisters whose characters Lorca left somewhat vague. Saralaine Evans, unfortunately, has some difficulty with the role of Adela. She moves stiffly and occasionally declaims in a monotonous, over-dramatic voice in a way that never lets one forget she's acting.
As for direction, the powerful final scene is evidence enough of Miss Dickason's skill. So as not to spoil the final effect, she has chosen to omit curtain calls. A pity, since rarely has there been a production for which they were more roundly deserved.
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