Repression at home with !BERNARDA!
Lorca’s final play receives a stunning update in the stylish Teatro Vista production written by Emilio Williams now on view at Steppenwolf’s cabaret-like 1700 theater space tucked behind the stylish bar on Halsted Street.
The production assumes you know the plot: a iron spined matriarch has kept her four daughters in enforced mourning for years, and her mother locked in a room. The sickly eldest daughter has a tidy inheritance, and a prime suitor who is having a secret affair with the youngest. The servants gossip. This drama does not end well.
The set is an awry and crooked house which already unsettles, and this absolutely perfectly selected ensemble moves in and out enhanced by surveillance projections which heighten the sense of oppressive family. The audience is exhorted prison style at the top of the show to behave well because we are all being observed, as is the case with a small community where everyone knows your business and has opinions about it.
Director Wendy Mateo and movement director J Nicole Brooks create a wordless ballet that says almost more than the dialogue, as the ensemble moves in eerie unison, or breaks out into individual dance styles that are quickly snuffed out, underlining the themes of misogyny and resistance.
Sarah Albrecht’s costumes are gothic fashion at its irresistible best making the show a kind of eye candy that is rich in visual character enhancement.
Charin Alvarez as Bernarda is terrifying, but she also manages to evoke empathy. This is a woman holding on to respectability with clawed fingers trying to raise her daughters in an unforgiving world. She is deeply flawed and her flaws result in tragedy. Alvarez also plays Bernarda’s mother and is a true chameleon also inhabiting that soul who the world has passed by. This is a tour de force performance not to be missed.
Stephanie Diaz's Poncia is the quintessential servant, into everything and secretly moving the levers while remaining deferential. Alix Rhode as Adela is lush and passionate and bound for trouble, an irrepressible spirit resisting the chains, but with no wisdom to avoid the pitfalls. The conclusion of her story was confusing to audience members who do not know the Lorca plot, still, we figure out that there is the opposite of a happy ending here.
This cast is astounding and outstanding. This is a story that shows how the patriarchy poisons women’s lives even as they put the chains on themselves and their daughters. The 75 minutes go by in a flash and leave you wanting to know more about these tragic women.
!BERNARDA! Is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 North Halsted Street, Thursdays through Sundays (and Wednesday November 8) through November 26th. For tickets and information go to https://www.steppenwolf.org/tickets--events/lookout/23-fall/bernarda/
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