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Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: The House of Bernarda Alba

The curtain rises to reveal a sparse set up of the Wright Theatre stage. With a thrust in the middle, the floor floats atop the stage without banisters, free of form or boundaries. The House of Bernarda Alba, performed by the UC Davis Department of Theatre and Dance, acts out on stage the quiet drama of the matriarch Bernarda Alba and her five daughters.

At times the plays feels complete, as sound, direction, acting, and costume gather to create a full effect. There are moments, however, when the sparseness of Bernarda Alba works against the production. The scene never settles, the stage becomes a ring where the setting, so constrained and familiar, seems to limit the range of the actors.

Through the course of the play, the slow progression reveals the hilarity of Bernarda Alba. Whether intentional or not, one cannot deny the black humor in the dialogue. Delivered dry, the dialogue often brings the audience to laughter, funny even if the subject is macabre.

Part of the funniness is due to the actors’ strong performances, particularly the dichotomy between Susan-Jane Harrison and Maria Candelaria as Bernarda and Poncia. On stage, the two complement each other, especially when the two characters clash. In the end, they appear as mirror images of another. Anchored by these performances, the other actors have freedom to create for themselves their own character interpretation. By taking liberties with the original play, the adaptation has Adela, played by Malia Abayon, garbed in gothic clothing. And she wears it well, not only with the costumes, but also with the atmosphere Bernarda Alba affords.

The stage again remains a marvel, but perhaps only for those expecting a play on a grand scale, the limitations serve to force creativity out of the production. Characters never leave the stage; they simply phase in and out by facing away or to the audience. It’s hard to forget the characters when they’re within the field of vision leading to a build-up of tension.

One thing Bernarda Alba handles well is its lighting design; for that it deserves full accolades. At times, the light works its way into the very characterization of the actors. Fitted with silhouettes and a changing color palette, Bernarda Alba’s light show fits the production well.

In all, The House of Bernarda Alba is a very professional, very deliberate production put on by the Department of Theatre and Dance. With a natural chorus featuring a live guitar and backed by strong performances from all of the actors, Bernarda Alba will leave you to marvel in the quiet humor of the play.

The House of Bernarda Alba closes this weekend, with shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. $19 for general admission, $14 for students, children and seniors. Tickets can be found at the Freeborn Ticket Office.

PETER AN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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