Sunday, October 16, 2011

Arsht Center: House of Bernarda Alba (reviews)

The University of Miami Theatre Arts Department partnered with the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to produce a new translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba. Translation by Karin Coonrod and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Nilo Cruz.
A devastatingly powerful story of a domineering woman obsessed with maintaining the honor of her family’s name against the forces of brutal small-town society, the play explores Bernarda’s iron-fisted oppression of her five daughters, transforming their rural home into a powder keg of tension, jealousy and fear.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Lorca’s death, the Adrienne Arsht Center launches a ground-breaking partnership with the University of Miami Department of Theatre Arts with this masterpiece of 20th-century drama.
Henry Fonte directed a cast that included Isabel Moreno, Edna Schwab, Connie Pantazis, Amandina Altomare, Megan Kinney, Annette Hammond, Rachel Lipman, and Elena Maria Garcia. 

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Director Henry Fonte, three professional actresses and a supporting cast of promising young students have delivered a unique and mostly convincing rendition of this tale of parental oppression and carnal repression. It’s laudable for its visual sense, its depiction of the youthful preoccupation with flowering sexuality and its atypical layer of humor, which is welcome but ultimately undermines the final tragedy.
...the evening never recovered its sense of gravitas and some audience members were actually giggling during the harrowing climax on opening night. With the final procession of calamities paced too quickly for the actresses to make credible, the humor had distanced the audience too far to buy into the usually affecting melodrama of wails and breast beating in the last scenes.
Fonte, the newly-appointed head of UM’s drama division, has guided the all-female cast to some commendable performances.
Most visible is the veteran stage and television actress Isabel Moreno, recently an aunt in Cruz’s world premiere of The Color of Desire at Actors Playhouse. Her implacable frown and corrugated knife of a voice communicate Bernarda’s Kelvin cold, unforgiving exterior that percolates up out of the depths of her soul.
What Moreno doesn’t exude – thereby creating the other key weakness of the production — is the overwhelming toxic tyranny that should linger even after she leaves the room. Without that persisting anti-charisma, the aforementioned humor is never balanced out and the audience never feels vicariously oppressed or suffocated in the tragic third act.

But Moreno delivers one of the two superb acting moments in the production. She physically recoils when Alba’s insane mother can be heard offstage babbling nonsense, and her face twists with revulsion when the old lady totters into the room. Moreno depicts the class-conscious Bernarda’s humiliation at this public shame. At the same time, for the only time in the play, her face exposes stark fear, knowing this might be what she will become. It’s chilling work.
Another fine performance belongs to Elena Maria Garcia, one of the region’s finest comic actresses, who brings her finely calibrated talent to the role of the earthy, pragmatic housekeeper La Poncia... Garcia never goes over the top but she injects a leavening working class humanity into the proceedings.
Edna Schwab has the thankless – and arguably dispensable role – as the dotty grandmother. But her scenes clutching a toy lamb and whimpering are appropriately pitiful.
...what really works with no asterisks is Fonte’s striking visuals. He arranges his cast like an artist composing a family portrait.... Most are not static tableaus; Fonte keeps the actresses busy, folding sheets, embroidering, clearing away dinner dishes.
If this production is not the excoriating emotional experience it could be, Fonte and company deserve high marks for a thoughtful and intriguing evening of theater.
The University of Miami Theatre Arts Department presents The House of Bernarda Alba at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through October 30, 2011.

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