Artscape
5:30 am
Mon April 30, 2012

Garcia Lorca's play exploring the pains of love, denial hits Seattle

The ideas of freedom and repression have played out around the world for thousands of years. The Spanish playwright, Frederico Garcia Lorca, explored those themes in "The House of Bernarda Alba."

The play was the last thing the Spaniard penned before he was assassinated in 1936, after General Franco and his military regime took power in that country.

The House of Bernarda Alba will be performed in Seattle by an all-female cast.

The story goes like this

It's the 1930s. Senora Bernarda Alba is the overbearing mother of five young women. Consumed by grief over her husband's recent death, she imposes an eight-year mourning period for the household. That means covering all the windows, wearing black and absolutely no socializing.

And when you have a bevy of young women trapped together in one place, at the peak of their sexuality, aching to flee the confines of their home, eight years is a very long time.

Colleen Carey plays Angustias. She's the eldest daughter who can't take the 'confinement' a moment longer. She cries to her mother to let her go out, beyond the compounds four walls. Instead of capitulating, Bernarda, played by Ruth McRee, calls Angustias a painted whore.

Bernarda is blind to the anguish of Angustias. She rules her girls and the servants with an iron fist.

"This is [me] seeking ultimate power," says McRee. "I want to keep everything as it is."

16 women and only one man

There are 16 women in the cast of The House of Bernarda Alba but only one man – Pepe el Romano, to whom Angustias is betrothed. Even though he's alluded to throughout the play he never appears.

Ruth McRee (Bernarda) thinks the absence of Pepe adds to the anxiety already felt in the house.

"He represents something that's kind of nameless," she says, "...a variety of ambitions and desires."

It turns out Pepe's pretty popular with the sisters. Angustias may be engaged to him but the youngest, Adela, is in love with him. The others are eaten up with envy, with a desire to have a better place in the world.

Garcia Lorca had secrets of his own

Much of Garcia Lorca's work, including The House of Bernarda Alba, challenged the accepted role of women in Spanish society. As a gay man living in a repressive Catholic culture of the 1930s, the playwright had to deny his own sexual and personal freedom, as did the women he portrayed.

Charles Waxberg directs the play. For him the play represents repression that reached far beyond the walls and the women in the Alba family circle.

"It's important to keep the universality in mind," he says, "and not to simply dismiss this as a melodrama about women who need men. [It's more about] being trapped, about having those in power rob you of basic human rights. I'd love it if people left here questioning human rights. What does an individual have a right to do? What are they entitled to do?"

"To burn with desire," Garcia Lorca wrote, "and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves." At the end of the play, one of the daughters speaks up, defying her mother and declares her freedom in a tragic way.

The House of Bernarda Alba by Frederico Garcia Lorca plays May 4-19 at The Ballard Underground in Seattle. Original music composed and performed by Evan Crockett.

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