A lone bell tolled as audience members filed into their seats at exactly 8:00 Sunday evening. Seated in balcony style, the audience peered upon the Production Workshop’s performance of “The House of Bernarda Alba” — written by Federico Garcia Lorca and directed by Sam Keamy-Minor ’16.
The play takes place in Andalusia, Spain, entirely in the house of Bernarda Alba, the only set. The play opens, and audience members can quickly deduce that a death has occurred before Bernarda speaks of it — the cast is dressed completely in black, the bell tolls, the maids gossip.
The cast comprises solely female characters, anchored by Jaclyn Licht ’16, who perfectly portrays Bernarda’s matriarchal nature, imposing a strict code of rules that her daughters are to follow for the next eight years while mourning their father. The daughters, played by Ali Murray ’18, Calvin Nickelson ’18, Sammie Chomsky ’18, Kate MacMullin ’18 and Marcus Sudac ’17, a former Herald staff writer, masterfully portray the dynamics of sisterhood, with its various spats and tensions, as well as the respective relationships with their controlling mother and with the two maids, played by Ana Marx ’18 and Nika Salazar ’16.
When Pepe el Romano, a young man in the village, expresses interest in the eldest of Bernarda’s daughters for her inheritance money, tensions mount — Bernarda’s other daughters can neither contain their jealousy nor their opinions that the situation is unfair. While this one man essentially generates the plot of the play, he is never once included on stage. His absence seems to suggest that the play focuses more on the danger of control and the effect that men can have on women than on the plot itself.
The set, lighting and sounds of the play cleverly enhance the tensions expertly crafted by the cast.
A chain-linked fence separates the audience from the set, obviating the sequestration of Bernarda’s daughters from the outside world. The balcony-style seating allows the audience to look down into Bernarda’s house like a child peers into a jar of trapped fireflies. The lighting is sparse, the effect of shadow complementary to Bernarda’s imposing effect. Bernarda’s mother, played by Anthony DeRita ’18 , appears unexpectedly on stage, contributing to the instability of the household.
Sounds are commonly expressed in extremes — maids whisper hurriedly to hide their gossiping from Bernarda while the sisters shout at each other in exasperation. The cast tiptoes or stomps; ambient noise is palpably silent, pierced only by gunshot or the relentless tolling of the death bells.