Emily Mann has adapted Federico Garcia Lorca’s dark tone poem, “The House of Bernarda Alba,” in an austere new production. Written in 1936 and completed just two months before the playwright’s execution by pro-fascist forces in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, “House” here becomes a play that, however ably acted, doesn’t fully capture the seething fury and tension of a doomed household.
Returning from her husband’s funeral, Bernarda Alba (Helen Carey) confines her five unmarried and restless daughters to the villa. The tyrannical matriarch assumes ironbound control of the young ladies, maintaining that none of the village laborers are worthy of marriage. A giddy playfulness and sensuality surfaces among the girls as they peek from windows to watch the farmhands stroll by.
Carey gives a forbidding portrait of the proud widow, smacking her walking stick on a table with cruel authority, but she doesn’t reach the heights of fury and anguish expected. The role of an earthy housekeeper calls for more warmth and humor than Isa Thomas provides, though the daughters skillfully illustrate varying degrees of sexual repression and longing. Standouts are Gretchen Cleevely as the impetuous youngest daughter infatuated by an eligible suitor, Molly Regan as her jealous rival and Natacha Roi as the disfigured and bitterly scheming Martirio.
Some of Mann’s colloquial updates intrude upon the Lorca lyricism, but the play retains its political metaphors and casts a tragic spell in its unalterable course of doom. Subtle strains from a guitar provide atmospheric accompaniment, but Thomas Lynch’s stark interior set could have suggested more of Southern Spain’s oppressive heat.