As the curtains fell on The House of Bernada Alba, the sorrow in the room was palpable. A crowd full of parents, students and faculty were greeted with a scene of mourning characters clad in black with hopelessness written on their faces. The House of Bernarda Alba was performed this past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Bolton Theater.
Written in 1936 by Federico García Lorca, a prominent Spanish poet and playwright, the play centers around the struggles of a mother, Bernarda Alba, and her five daughters living in southern Spain.
Gender stereotypes play a large role in the work. Lorca clearly intended to demonstrate the misogyny in the world around him.
An exclusively female cast was tasked with tackling these alarming illustrations of 20th-century Spanish society. Katherine Reber ’21, who plays Bernarda, recognized the significance of this opportunity. “There is something beautiful about being able to say that the story we told paid homage to a group of people who, in their time and place, would not have been given a voice to speak,” Reber said. “We are paying homage to those who have lived or are living in a world in which they are not allowed to be fully human.” Bernarda runs an extremely strict household, forcing her daughters to remain in the home at all times and avoid interactions with men.
Director Thomas Aulino, a visiting assistant professor of drama, emphasized key elements of the plot that further exemplify the suffering the play conveys. The play’s primary male character, Pepe el Romano, who is adored by three of the daughters, does not make an appearance on stage. This tactic was successful in highlighting the daughters’ desperation to escape the prison that is the Alba household. Throughout the play, tension builds between two daughters Martirio and Adela, both believing they are right for Pepe. They frequently lose their composure and scream at each other. Pepe represents a desired happiness that seems excruciatingly out of reach.
Additionally, the entire production takes place in the same house; there were frequent moments of silence with no actors present onstage. The consistency of the setting allowed the audience to notice slight changes in behavior. The sisters’ brief moments of joy reflected on their faces as they imagined adventures with men, contrasted with their immediate misery as Bernarda enters the room, is striking.
One such scene signifies the role of servant La Poncia, played by Charlotte Schultz ’23. While the daughters are sewing, La Poncia recalls a moment in which she stood up to her husband when he was acting out of line. She tells the story in a humorous tone, prompting laughter from the other characters. Bernarda’s children idolize La Poncia, seeing an independent woman who enjoys life and is unafraid to speak her mind. The actresses are effective in showing immense respect towards La Poncia that demonstrates the strength of her relationship with the daughters.
La Poncia also holds a unique power over Bernarda. Bernarda seems to feel uncomfortable in her interactions with the servant; she doesn’t possess that same frightening control we see with her daughters. The mother of the house uncovers sentiments of sympathy which are not seen at any other moment of the play.
The play stunned the audience with its startling portrayal of the oppression of women. The consequences of gender inequality were on full display, and the lessons of The House of Bernarda Alba apply to society as much today as when the play was first introduced.