The House of Bernarda Alba – Creep Study
A REVIEW BY RIVER STYX
If Bernarda Alba’s daughters were a girl group from the ’90s, they’d be CrazyCreepyCool. But because The House of Bernarda Alba is set in nineteenth century Spain, instead of power ballads about safe sex, there are anguished cries of “My daughter died a virrrrginnnnn!!!!!!!”
The final play of Spanish national poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba focuses on a family of women during a hot – in every way – period of mourning for the not-so-beloved patriarch. It’s sweltering, and Bernarda Alba’s daughters are suffocating in (fabulously costumed) full-coverage black dresses and scarves and under the oppression of their mother, who keeps them locked away from the outside world. But, nobody likes to be oppressed. Especially Bernarda’s youngest daughter, 20-year-old Adela, played with fiery vigor by Linaé Bullock. Adela just wants to wear her pretty green dress and get her groove on with her older sister’s suitor, hottie Pepe el Romano (who we never see on stage). Bullock owns Adela. Her desire to break free of her mother and society’s oppression comes across as a possession, which roars to the surface in a scene that made me genuinely scared something crazy was about to go down.
Bullock is in good company with a group of women who each own their individual daughter personas. Annex Theater company member Ren Pepitone is a creepy little doll of a force as limping Martirio, the 24-year-old sexually repressed daughter who would make one helluva dominitrix and/or Satanic witch. Melissa McGinley as eldest daughter Angustias uses her compelling stage presence and nuanced longing to amplify her character’s sad acceptance of being a 39-year-old courted by hottie Pepe solely for her dowry. Amy Mulvihill’s Magdalena is a droll, no-nonsense 30-year-old you’d want to drink copious amounts of wine and make snarky observations about hipsters with. Playing naïve and agreeable Amelia is recent Boston transplant Kate Bailey Metkus, who has excellent Spanish pronunciation and an eager earnestness and beautiful blue eyes that would make her perfect for spinning around a gazebo in the rain with a Nazi youth singing “I am 16 going on 17.”
Maryland Renaissance Festival court member Ruta Douglas Smith as creepy grandma Maria Josefa sends chills over FPCT’s entire upstairs theater – the effect happens because of the combination of Smith’s delivery and Helenmary Ball’s excellent costuming. Ball, who also plays matriarch Bernarda Alba, shrouds Smith in white garments and a white-flower crown over an unruly white wig, all contrasting with the daughters’ black get-ups (which are each different to accentuate each individual character). The creeptasticness of FPCT’s production is also accentuated by director Richard Barber’s Caravaggio-esque candle-lit tableaus when spells are cast in Spanish by various daughters and servant girl Faustina (played with a nervous energy mixed occasionally with stammering hatred by Jennifer Hasselbusch).
Ball, who shined in the recent FPCT production of Hamlyn, doesn’t quite embody the evil, prideful Bernarda Alba. She serves more as a supporting character here, interpreting Bernarda Alba more as annoyed middle-aged woman who wishes she had cats instead of daughters. She and Margaret Condon, as the maid La Poncia, seem to just miss the mark with their timing and delivery, but each jumps into the emotionally charged final scene with vigor.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The House of Bernarda Alba is stacked with lady actors who make you grateful not to live in a time and place where unmarried women kill their babies to escape society’s shame and you’re screwed if you don’t have a handsome dowry to attract a husband. Throw in some crazy and creepy that makes your skin crawl, and you’ve got an entertaining night out in Fells Point.
Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre through May 10th.
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