×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bernarda Alba

Federico Garcia Lorca's simmering drama "The House of Bernarda Alba" has been subjected to an unnecessary musicalization by the ubiquitous Michael John LaChiusa. However, there's less in this stubbornly uninvolving treatment to suggest the hand of the composer than that of a first-year women's studies student.

With:
Bernarda Alba - Phylicia Rashad Angustias - Saundra Santiago Magdalena - Judith Blazer Amelia - Sally Murphy Martirio - Daphne Rubin-Vega Adela - Nikki M. James Maria Josepha - Yolande Bavan Poncia - Candy Buckley Young Maid - Laura Shoop Servant, Prudencia - Nancy Ticotin

New York stages have not been kind to Federico Garcia Lorca this season. First he was summoned from the grave to figure as a spiritual guide in Nilo Cruz’s soporific play “Beauty of the Father.” Now his simmering drama “The House of Bernarda Alba” has been subjected to an unnecessary musicalization by the ubiquitous Michael John LaChiusa. However, there’s less in this stubbornly uninvolving treatment to suggest the hand of the much in-demand musical theater composer than that of a first-year women’s studies student, boldfacing the play’s themes of female oppression with all the delicacy of flamenco heels pounding a wooden floor.

From the opening setup of director-choreographer Graciela Daniele’s regimented staging — straight-backed chairs lined up against a stark white wall with a heavy, central wooden door — it’s clear that flamenco, so often incorporated in Lorca interpretations, is the musical idiom of choice.

The proud, muscular rhythms of the form — punctuated by claps, clicks and stomps — together with the jagged, modernist sounds more characteristic of the prolific LaChiusa, make “Bernarda Alba” a dark and intriguing musical score. But the droning, atonal songs, with their ponderously literal lyrics, are too fragmented to define character or to build emotion or dramatic momentum.

As a narrative, the adaptation connects the dots of Lorca’s plot efficiently enough. But rather than lending fresh resonance to the tragic tale of a tyrannical widowed mother and her five unwed daughters, the musical interpretation chills and dilutes the fiery passions, bristling tensions and caged sexuality so essential to the play.

That’s not to say there’s anything anemic about the performances, starting with Phylicia Rashad as the iron-fisted title character, who declares following her unfaithful husband’s death, “Not a breath of outside air is going to enter this house. Not for as long as we’re in mourning.” While Rashad’s occasional flashes of empowered contemporary attitude tend to jar in the context of a village in 1930s rural Spain, she’s a formidable matriarch, fiercely conflicted by her imprisoning fear of disrepute and her anger at being forced to live and struggle like a man.

But while an effective presentation of Lorca’s play can generate searing dramatic potency and trenchant political metaphor in this hothouse of women, here there’s something distancing and obvious about all the overwrought resentment being spat out onstage.

“You took what you wanted/And then you took more/You took my love, my love, my love/And made me your whore,” sings Bernarda to her dead husband, Antonio, repeating the word “whore” several times in case anyone missed the cancerous, consuming nature of her disgust. This seems understated, however, next to a later song about an escaped stallion mounting a mare, with all the girls bellowing, “Open the door! And let me in!”

Bernarda’s daughters are reduced largely to character types defined by gossiping housekeeper Poncia (an abrasive Candy Buckley) in the prologue song; Angustias (Saundra Santiago), the first daughter and, tradition dictates, the first to marry; lazy Magdalena (Judith Blazer); timid Amelia (Sally Murphy); Martirio (Daphne Rubin-Vega), too ugly to marry; and Adela (Nikki M. James), the youngest and prettiest.

Under Daniele’s bludgeoning directorial hand, there’s much urgent stomping about on the weathered wooden boards of designer Christopher Barreca’s stage. But the only performers given something substantial to chew on, aside from Rashad, are Rubin-Vega and James. Martirio seethes with envy, exclusion and covetousness, while Adela is too spirited and passionate to deny her desires, even if it means stealing her sister’s intended husband.

But none of the characters are given three-dimensional rendering by LaChiusa, so the cast claws, sweats and snarls its way through the show’s stolid 90 minutes with meager dramatic dividends. Even the play’s shattering conclusion, when violent death touches the family, has little impact.

In the end, it’s the textured shapes of Michael Starobin’s brooding orchestrations and the expressive, shadowy patterns of Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting that command the most admiration and attention.

LaChiusa’s many supporters like to point out that he continues to explore difficult material in challenging forms that refuse to pander to audiences accustomed to easy emotional and melodic hooks. But when that cerebral disconnect pushes the aud away from a drama rather than pulling them in, the wisdom has to be questioned. Here, he does Lorca no favors.

Bernarda Alba

Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater; 287 seats; $75 top

Production: A Lincoln Center Theater presentation of a musical in one act with music, lyrics and book by Michael John LaChiusa, based on the play "The House of Bernarda Alba" by Federico Garcia Lorca. Directed, choreographed by Graciela Daniele. Music direction, Deborah Abramson.

Creative: Set, Christopher Barreca; costumes, Toni-Leslie James; lighting, Stephen Strawbridge; sound, Scott Stauffer; orchestrations, Michael Starobin; production stage manager, Jennifer Rae Moore. Opened March 6, 2006. Reviewed March 3. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN,

Cast: Bernarda Alba - Phylicia Rashad Angustias - Saundra Santiago Magdalena - Judith Blazer Amelia - Sally Murphy Martirio - Daphne Rubin-Vega Adela - Nikki M. James Maria Josepha - Yolande Bavan Poncia - Candy Buckley Young Maid - Laura Shoop Servant, Prudencia - Nancy Ticotin

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content