AU ‘Bernarda’ production parallels Spanish history

The weekend of Feb. 25 brought great success to AU’s theater department as they introduced four sold-out performances of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba.”

Originally written in Spanish, the AU rendition was translated by Emily Mann and directed by Puerto Rican native Javier Rivera, an alumnus who received his BA in theater and education. However, a degree in theater is not the only achievement that Rivera has to boast; the success of the recent play speaks volumes of his cultural and artistic contributions.

Set on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, the play portrays a family ruled by their mother, Bernarda Alba, after the death of the patriarch. The performance presents a different mood than “Romeo and Juliet,” which the department presented earlier this year. Though both are tragedies, “The House of Bernarda Alba” poses a theme distinct from the devastation of young love. The daughters of Bernarda Alba are secluded after their mother imposes an eight-year mourning period on them following their father’s death. The topics of oppression of women and Spanish tradition parallel the regime of Francisco Franco, the rising dictator during the time the play was written.

The emphasis on female issues is obvious. The presentation is made up of entirely female characters. Men are only present as off-stage references. Leeanna Rubin, who plays Bernarda Alba, delivers a convincing performance of the controlling matriarch and brings the audience into the world of 20th century Spain. The performance puts the viewers directly in the Alba household. Additionally, the small cast of only twelve actors contributes to the intimacy of the play and creates the illusion that the viewer is confined in the house just like the Alba daughters.

The small theater also added to the tone of the play, which School of Communication sophomore Kayla Fenner described as dark and intimate.

“The play was really dark, literally and figuratively,” Fenner said. “You could definitely feel the tension between the family, especially because the audience was so close to the actors.”

The tension on stage did indeed spread to the audience, which made the drama even more gripping in the intimate theater. In fact, the performance was consistent with Lorca’s original intention to create a dark atmosphere. In doing so, Lorca hoped to create a parallel to the darkness of the social condition in Spain. Rivera recreates Lorca’s image perfectly and provides insight into his world.

While the historical context of Franco’s Spain is distinct from Washington, D.C., today, the topics of oppression still exist in the 21st century. The audience recognized this theme and the setting and environment created in “The House of Bernarda Alba.” Both worked together to give the viewer a sense of a scope outside modern reality. Although the play finished its performances at Katzen on Saturday, Feb. 27, the impact of the performance very much resounds in those who saw it. While the play portrayed a house divided, the response of the audience was united with satisfaction. ¡Bien hechos!

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