The House of Bernarda Alba, written by Federico Garcia Lorca and celebrating its 70th anniversary this Sunday, tells a tragic story of oppression. This weekend, the intense drama comes to the PW in a powerfully unique rendition directed by Sam Keamy-Minor ’16.
Upon entering the Downspace, I was first struck by the beautiful set. Designed by Miranda Friel ’15 and Keamy-Minor, it aptly sets the tone–one of tension and priggishness–soon to permeate the play. Next, my eye focused on the stage; the daughters of Bernarda Alba were already onstage, responding to constantly-sounding church bells like puppets on a string–an ominous choice, as throughout the play they’re quite literally caged in their own home.
Bernarda, offstage, has already been assigned a tyrannical identity by the maids, who feverishly scrub the floors. La Poincia, played by Ana Marx ’18, establishes herself as a relatively unbiased third-party figure with relation to the dysfunctional household, while her assistant, played by Kathy Ng ’17, emulates the matriarch’s terrifying nature. Bernarda is finally introduced. Jaclyn Licht ’16 perfectly captures the widow’s domineering nature as well as her intense obsession with maintaining the Alba family’s social reputation.
As the play devolves into tragedy, the five daughters begin to emerge as distinct personalities. In their own ways, each exhibits her own struggle with the loneliness and brutality of life at home. Angustias (Ali Murray ’18) lives in the fantasy of life outside the walls as Pepe’s wife; Magdalena (Calvin Nickelson ’18) sleeps through the day, isolated from her sisters; Amelia (Sammie Chomsky ’18) passively follows along with her sisters; Martirio (Kate MacMullin ’15), the ugliest of the sisters, broods, lonely and unrecognized by men; finally, Adela (Marcus Sudac ’17), the youngest and prettiest of the sisters, struggles to contain her blossoming sexuality and vivaciousness.
For Jenn Maley ’16, Cabaret is a story of survival and gilding. According to her, the characters do whatever they can to survive–the decisions they must make are heart-breaking, but they do what is necessary in order to continue living their lives–while the Nazi party, which will transform Germany into a nightmare, rises to power as a glamorous party.
Maley particularly emphasizes how important it is to capture the initially positive image of the Nazi party for many Germans–something she learned from Alice Eichenbaum, a survivor of World War II who has spoken to the cast and will speak again to the Brown community this weekend (more on that later). Maley infuses these two ideas into her envisioning of the Broadway classic, introducing them in the shadows of Act I and bringing them to the forefront in the harrowing tragedy of Act II.
The effect is incredible; Maley’s complex conceptual comprehension of the play transforms this production into an incredibly powerful entity.
While the beginning feels somewhat stagnant and one-dimensional, the play catches fire during the Schneider-Schultz engagement party. This scene is where the darkness beneath the veneer of the Nazi party is first exposed.
This darkness is compelling, and the creative team’s unique touches–especially in lighting and choreography–accentuate the discrepancy between the fantastical world of Sally Bowles and the real, ominous nature of the rising Nazi party. This duality snowballs into the second act, where the play evolves into an untamable and passionate tragedy. This is where the true magic of this production, the decay of the principals, comes to the forefront.
The minimalist set (just two central platforms and an elevated platform on each side of the theater), which was at first somewhat disappointing and confusing, takes on a whole new meaning as the glitzy world of the play’s opening dissolves into the darkness of the changing times. The uncontrollable second act tumbles towards an electrifying finale where, in its final moments, even the Emcee’s façade is literally stripped away.