A smoldering triumph: Heartwood's 'Bernarda Alba'

Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in Culture

A smoldering triumph: Heartwood's 'Bernarda Alba'

Bernarda Alba dominates her five restless daughters, even in their mourning. Heartwood Theater opened “The House of Bernarda Alba” in Newcastle on July 20.

by David Treadwell 

NEWCASTLE — Don’t miss Heartwood Regional Theater’s tour de force production of "The House of Bernarda Alba," now playing at the Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy.

Adela (youngest daughter): “My body belongs to whomever I want.”

Bernarda Alba (mother): “A daughter who disobeys her mother becomes an enemy.”

The stark set creates the tone. High walls, mottled with green and gray and brown. A rocking chair. A sink. Two vases. Nothing more. 

The flamenco guitarist in the background, a shadowy figure seen through a high window at center stage, sets the mood: poignant, yearning, mournful.

 A maid and the housekeeper come on stage and begin setting up chairs, all the while cursing and muttering about their boss Bernarda Alba, the loathsome dictator who rules the household.

As a member of the audience, you sense you’re in for a roller-coaster ride through an intense range of human conflicts and emotions. What you will witness ranks with the absolutely best visionary work in Maine theater today.

"The House of Bernarda Alba" was written by the renowned Spanish dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca in 1936, just two months before his assassination by Franco’s militia. The play begins after the funeral of Bernarda Alba’s second husband. She informs her five daughters that they must mourn for eight years, confined to the house. The oldest daughter, Anguistias, is slated to marry Pepe el Romano who, it turns out, is also the fantasy object of her sister Martirio and a secret lover of her youngest sister, Adela.

Numerous verbal clashes among Bernarda, her daughters, and the housekeeper take place during the next 90 minutes, interspersed with confrontations between Bernarda and her (usually) loyal housekeeper and maid and impromptu appearances by Bernarda’s ditzy mother, who provides the only comic relief, and a guest of the household.

The play conveys one overarching message: all dictatorships— whether they occur in families, in nations or simply between two people — are destined to fail given the deep craving in the human heart for freedom and independence. We need order, yes, but inner desires can’t be forever suppressed and repressed.

Every performer in this 10-women play turns in a spot-on performance. You never get the feeling you’re watching actors play a role; rather, you’re seeing real people demonstrate real emotions and engage in real conflict.

Bernarda Alba, played by Millie Santiago, conveys such rage, anger and need to control that you’re surprised to see her smile and link arms with her fellow actors at the curtain call.

Maddy Sherrill, a student at the highly selective Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, is equally impressive as  Adela, the daughter most capable of claiming her need to control her own destiny.

It’s unfair, perhaps, to single out these two actors, who inevitably stand out because Bernarda exemplifies the need to control, at one extreme, and Adela exemplifies the need for independence, at the other. Each and every one of these women performs with authenticity and professionalism. On opening night July 20, to this observer, no one ever missed a line or a step or a nuance.

Juanito Pascual earns kudos for his evocative flamenco music. His music never overrides the action on stage; rather, it underscores the mood, at once resigned and yearning.

The superb technical direction of Tish Munson works because it’s part of the whole; her sound and light effects never stand out, nor should they. But they always enhance the experience.

Once again, Griff Braley, Heartwood Regional Theater’s artistic director, demonstrates his unerring ability to put on a masterful show, whatever the play or the cast of characters. It’s no surprise that so many Heartwood regulars have been heard to say, “I don’t care what Heartwood does; I’m going to see it.”

If you love great theater, be sure to see "The House of Bernarda Alba." You will not be disappointed.


Remaining performances of "The House of Bernarda Alba" are July 26, 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. and a July 29 matinee at 3 p.m. at the Poe Theater at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. Phone 563-1373.

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