An appreciation by Peter Hall…
THE BASICS: THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, a 1934 drama by the assassinated Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, in a modern adaptation by Rona Munro set in Glasgow in 2002, presented by Niagara University Theatre, directed by Amanda Lytle Sharpe runs through Monday. at the Leary Theatre in Clet Hall at “NU” (Niagara University) on the campus. Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes with no intermission. There is a Sunday matinee (today at 2pm), and a Monday show at 7pm.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: From the theater’s website: “Following the death of her husband, formidable matriarch Bernarda Alba will do anything to protect her family’s fortune and the future of her five daughters. A deal is struck – a marriage of convenience between her eldest girl [Agnes] and the son of a business rival…. Bernarda must ensure that the wedding happens, and quickly. But five headstrong daughters imprisoned within the family home filled with an atmosphere of bitter rivalry and repressed sexuality makes for an epic task. Contains mature themes and language.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: After Saturday’s performance of SIGNIFICANT OTHER (BUA at the Alleyway which is excellent by the way), I was asked by one of the young actors to recommend plays I thought he should see. I immediately responded “DISGRACED, at Road Less Traveled, and get up to Niagara University for THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, also excellent, and which is a play that every actor can attend because the last night is Monday, when everything else is dark.”
From the moment you walk into the beautifully appointed Leary Theatre and see the stunning set assembled by a crew of well over a dozen students, you know that great resources have been lavished on this production, resources of time and money and personnel and rehearsal which are in such short supply for most local professional theaters. Walking in and seeing that set immediately put me in mind of shows at the Chautauqua Institution, also a teaching theater, where no detail is overlooked.
There are twelve roles in this play, all women. All the performances are strong, and the roles seemed uncannily “type-cast,” until after the play when the student actors came spilling out in street clothes and once again I was reminded that what we saw on-stage was the result of everything theatrical – great direction, blocking, costumes, make-up, lighting, and yes – great acting.
Great direction, blocking, costumes, make-up, lighting, and yes – great acting.
Kalee George, a senior, is obviously a little young to be “Bernie” the mother of five girls, but damn she is convincing and swings a mean baseball bat in the protection of her family. She spoke about her role on NU Theatre’s Facebook page. Her assistant “Penny” is well played by Arianna Lasting in a role that requires both aggression and submission in quick order, not an easy task. Kayla Storto as Agnes, the eldest (and the one legally in control of the money) plays the role with nerves of steel. Carly Weldy plays a consistent role as “Maggie,” a middle child, not a real “problem” child. To Ms. Weldy’s credit, she is memorable, although not the protagonist in any scene. That’s tough, but she nails it. Another middle child is Melly, played by Sarah Emmerling, another senior, who also spoke about the play. Then there’s “Marty” played by Christine Turturro who pops anti-depressants like candy, washing them down with booze, and Adie, the youngest, flushed with first love, who is about to upset the entire apple cart, played by Heather Gervasi with great relish.
Quoting from Keelin Higgins’ Dramaturgy Notes: “…Throughout the 1930s, Spain devolved from a liberal minded democracy to a fascist dictatorship… Sex was dangerous, women were controlled, and men were the most important factor in their entire life aside from religion….what does a play about Spanish women in the 1930s have to do with early 2000s Glasgow, Scotland? My answer is simply that society controls us as humans, no matter the time and no matter the place….”
If you believe that history repeats itself, over and over and over, and if you like the tradition of playwriting where large, global, societal and cultural forces are played out in an intimate family setting, then this play is for you.
Since it is my policy not to “rate” student performances, consider this less a review and more of a hot tip: don’t miss this very rare opportunity to see a gripping play by a major 20th century poet, performed by a theater that has been wowing audiences for 53 years. You will be very, very impressed.
UP NEXT: CHICAGO, the musical by Kander and Ebb (and Fosse) April 19-29, 2018. Again, from the NU website: “Murder. Greed. Corruption. Violence. Exploitation. Adultery. Treachery. All the things we hold near and dear to our hearts. Set amidst the delicious decadence of the 1920s, Chicago is the story of Roxie Hart, housewife and aspiring nightclub dancer who murders her lover and transforms her malicious misconduct into sensational headlines suggestive of today’s tabloids. Kander and Ebb’s musical masterpiece of murder and mayhem, winner of six Tony Awards and the longest running American musical in Broadway history, CHICAGO has razzle-dazzled audiences around the world. Contains mature themes and language.”