×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The House of Bernarda Alba

At the end of each scene of Bijan Sheibani's production of "The House of Bernarda Alba" there's a loud sting of sound and a stab of light snapping to blackout. Unfortunately, those added dramatic flashpoints only point up the drama that's almost entirely absent from the scenes between them

With:
Bernarda Alba - Shohreh Aghdashloo
Darya - Jane Bertish
Asieh - Pandora Colin
Amina - Jasmina Daniel
Elmira - Amanda Hale
Anahita Seline - Hizli
Maryam - Sarah Solemani
Maid - Mia Soteriou
Farzaneh - Badria Timimi
Adela - Hara Yannas

At the end of each scene of Bijan Sheibani’s production of “The House of Bernarda Alba” there’s a loud sting of sound and a stab of light snapping to blackout. Unfortunately, those added dramatic flashpoints only point up the drama that’s almost entirely absent from the scenes between them.

Sheibani’s bold governing idea is to relocate Lorca’s classic drama of five aging sisters held almost hostage in their own home by their imperious mother. Instead of occurring in 1930s Spain, the (in)action is now set in contemporary Iran.

Intellectually that idea makes sense, not least for the audience’s understanding of female repression. And it allows Sheibani to stage an opening with dozens of extras filing patiently into the house in silent mourning for the death which happens just before the beginning of the play. But aside from the predominant hijab costuming, Bunny Christie’s solid house set and the sounds of outdoor prayer, the relocation ends there.

There’s authenticity at hand via the casting of Iranian-born, now U.S.-based actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as a heavily accented Bernarda. Oddly, however, she elects to play Bernarda as dessicated rather than despotic. And if she’s not invincible, why do the women not overthrow her?

More problematically, her mother and her daughters all sound dislocatingly English. So much so, that, fatally, the girls act as if they’re on an over-extended visit rather than having been immured in a lifetime of verbal and physical torture. Pandora Colin brings practicality and clear-sightedness to the plainest, oldest daughter and Amanda Hale gives life to her overlooked middle sister, but collectively the women simply don’t read as a family.

This is a play in which temperatures and passions run high. Mention of the extreme heat brings on a comic moment where all the women suddenly produce fans, but because of the way the actors behave physically with themselves and each other, they never look as if they are either sticky or even particularly hot.

Clearly the decision has been to avoid the melodrama that can derail an unfocused production. Seething jealousies, anger and lust are downplayed. But the play ends in a suicide, so for that risky approach to pay off, we have to be able to read the incremental shifts of emotion. Sheibani, however, keeps Jon Clark’s lighting at such a low level of intensity that it’s hard to read the actors expressions or to become engaged in the unfolding tragedy.

Matters aren’t helped by Emily Mann’s self-conscious translation that hands out overripe phrases even when the stakes are at their lowest. When housekeeper Darya (an ideally direct, earthbound Jane Bertish) tells the maid (Mia Soteriou) that there’s a spot on some glass that needs cleaning, Soteriou is forced to intone the overly ornate, “Neither soap nor rags will clean that.”

Sheibani sets a slow, laborious rhythm which is obeyed almost throughout. That is probably intended to convey the household’s deadening routine, but it’s too thuddingly literal a response to a text that needs to gather fire as events spiral out of control. “What is going on?” asks Bernarda at one point. “Nothing is going on,” comes the reply. Indeed.

The House of Bernarda Alba

Almeida Theater, London; 328 seats; £32 ($50) top

Production: An Almeida Theater presentation of a play in one act by Federico Garcia Lorca in a version by Emily Mann. Directed by Bijan Sheibani.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Bunny Christie; lighting, Jon Clark; sound, Dan Jones; production stage manager, Maris Sharp. Opened, reviewed, Jan. 26, 2012. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Bernarda Alba - Shohreh Aghdashloo
Darya - Jane Bertish
Asieh - Pandora Colin
Amina - Jasmina Daniel
Elmira - Amanda Hale
Anahita Seline - Hizli
Maryam - Sarah Solemani
Maid - Mia Soteriou
Farzaneh - Badria Timimi
Adela - Hara Yannas

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content