BWW Review: Haunting THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA at Epic Theatre
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA is one of those deliciously sinister plays that unpacks social mores, female relationships, self destruction and repression in a way that is eminently watchable. The current production at Epic Theatre features Michelle L. Walker as Bernarda Alba, a part so perfectly cast that you can't imagine anyone else in this role. The rest of the cast is equally strong, but it's very clear through Walker's performance that she is Bernarda Alba, and this is her house.
The play begins immediately after Bernarda Alba has buried her second husband. Up until now, none of her five adult daughters (ages 20-39) has been married, but now that circumstances have changed, Bernarda Alba has to move past her conviction that no one is good enough for them, and think of the family's financial future. Bernarda imposes an eight year mourning period over her daughters, during which time they will not be able to leave the house, but youngest daughter Adela (Alexis Ingram) grows increasingly defiant, and tensions within the household reach untenable heights. Bernarda decides that oldest daughter, Angustias will be allowed to marry Pepe al Romano, but it becomes apparent that his frequent visits to the house aren't only to see Angustias.
The play takes place over a single act, but by the end the layers of tension build rapidly toward a tragic crescendo. Bernarda Alba's intractable conviction that she can control everything that goes on in her family starts to crumble. Paula Faber as Poncia, the family's long-time servant, is the only person who can speak frankly to Bernarda. The relationship between the two women is an interesting one. There is a lot of talk of class, particularly how Poncia's family is lower class than Bernarda's, but they also speak somewhat as equals. Faber's performance is strong, and she holds her own against Walker's stern dominance, but you also never get a true sense of her motivation. Is she resigned to follow Bernarda's dictates, even though she can see the folly in it? Or is she like an Iago, dismantling the house from within through cunning and flattery?
Though all the performances are strong, there's just no discounting Michelle L. Walker as the true star of this production. She's quickly becoming known locally for playing very strong and determined women, and though Bernarda Alba's determination is ultimately her undoing, there is no doubt through Walker's performance that she believes 100% that her way is the only way. It's almost surprising any of her daughters defy her, because she can be so scary at times that it really feels like disagreeing with her is a bad idea.
Alexis Ingram as Adela has the pluck to defy her domineering mother, and her determination makes you root for her, even though she's a deeply flawed as the other members of this family.
The House of Bernarda Alba is a complicated look at female relationships and social class, and it's absolutely fascinating. While it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it does show an all-female cast of strong women trying to control their own fate by any means necessary.
Performances Friday, January 11th @ 8pm, Saturday, January 12th @ 8pm, Thursday, January 17th @ 8pm, Friday, January 18th @ 8pm, Saturday, January 19th @ 8pm, Friday, January 25th @ 8pm, Saturday, January 26th @ 8pm
Tickets: $20 General Admission $15 Seniors, $10 Students
Tickets may be purchased at http://www.artists-exchange.org/events.html
All Performances at Theatre 82, Located at 82 Rolfe Square, Cranston, Rhode Island
Photo: Michelle L. Walker and Alexis Ingram. Photo by Richard W. Dionne Jr.