‘Can you feel the silence?’ Yes, indeed – an uneasy, foreboding quiet creeped in and lingered as I entered The House of Bernarda Alba.
The play’s namesake, Bernarda Alba (Cesca Echlin), wields total control over her five daughters, Angustias (Anna Jones), Magdalena (Pelin Morgan), Amelia (Caroline Dehn), Martirio (Matilda Hadcock), and Adela (Esme Sanders). After the death of Bernarda’s second husband, she imposes an eight-year mourning period on all the members of her household, essentially locking up her daughters and forbidding them from romantic relationships even well into their middle age. Translated from Federico García Lorca’s original Spanish, The House of Bernarda Alba explores the universal themes of repression, desire, and passion.
Echlin as Bernarda was extremely convincing as a cold, domineering matriarch, but to my surprise the stand-out character was an outsider to Bernarda’s family – their housekeeper, La Poncia (Charithra Chandran). With her kindness as a foil to Bernarda’s cruelty, Chandran’s performance gave me a sense of security in an environment seemingly filled with secrets and danger. And interestingly, even though there were no male actors at all within the play, their presence was implied and worked to heighten the tension between the female characters.
The Pilch’s set – a room with no furniture and a backdrop of white curtains – served well to represent the bareness of life under Bernarda’s rule. Logistically, however, the position of my seat made it difficult to see the actors sitting on the floor in certain scenes where some chairs may have been beneficial. Nevertheless, the simplicity and overall feeling of the set was effective – the whiteness of the room underscored the importance of purity to Bernarda’s household and played off of the soft white lace of her daughters’ costuming. Especially in the final act, the lighting and sound came together to enhance the strength of the set, with the dappled sunlight and chirping of insects creating the sensation of a hot summer’s day. So hot, in fact, that like Bernarda’s control over her daughters, it was stifling.