IN A small Spanish village, domineering matriarch Bernarda Alba imposes an eight-year period of mourning upon her family after the death of her second husband.
For her five daughters it is a repressive burden. For the youngest, Adela, it is an imposition too far, and a confrontation between parent and child ensues, with tragic consequences for the Alba family.
This is Federico García Lorca’s La Casa De Bernarda Alba, one of the Spaniard’s greatest plays, which is to be staged in its original Spanish, in the Town Hall Theatre by Galway’s Hourglass Theatre Company.
To stage the production en Español, instead of in English translation, and featuring an all-female Spanish and Latin American cast is a brave move.
“I always knew it was going to be something of an experiment,” says Hourglass’s Ian Patterson, who is directing the production. “I lived in Spain for four years and have long had an interest in Lorca. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be possible to stage the play, but we did two days of casting and I was surprised by how many Spaniards there are in Galway.
“We’ve also got support from the Granary Learning Centre and the Spanish Department of NUI Galway, and we’ll have family and friends of the cast coming over from Spain to see the play.”
La Casa De Bernarda Alba is the third in Lorca’s so-called ‘rural trilogy’ along with Yerma and Blood Wedding, although La Casa... is seen as more ‘naturalistic’ than the other plays, with no songs or poems featured (although this production will feature instrumental music by Spanish group Cantos de Azahar ). Despite this, it is a heavily symbolic play through its use of colour, costume, and character names.
“Lorca had a very specific stage set in mind,” Ian explains. “There is much use of symbolism. The set features a white wall and floor, but all the characters are dressed in black. The white symbolises the virginity and purity of the daughters within their confined world, while the contrast between black and white represents the black and white world of morals in which they live. There is no grey area.
“Adela, the youngest daughter, played by Maria Lopez from Argentina, rebels against this by wearing a green dress, green being nature, life, and freedom. Then there are the names of characters such as Martitio, which means martyrdom and Prudencia, prudence - what would have been considered positive attributes of Catholic suffering.”
Although Pepe ‘el Romano’, is the love interest for both Adela and her sister Angustias, he is never seen, only mentioned, and no man appears on-stage at any time. Despite this, the play is very much about the position of women in society and how they were both viewed and treated by men.
“The play is subtitled ‘a drama of women in the villages of Spain’ and it is based on a family he knew in Granada, where the daughters were forbidden contact with the outside world, especially men,” says Ian.
“Lorca was interested in how such communities were interested in a very superficial form of self-esteem, based on what their neighbours thought of them. Conforming was important. There was a view women didn’t have sexual lives other than for procreation, whereas men could do whatever and whoever they liked. That kind of inequality was taken for granted and it’s something Bernarda tries to instil in her daughters, but by doing that she brings on the tragedy. In a way, ...Bernarda Alba is a cautionary tale about the effects of social repression.”
Ian also believes the use of strong colour, symbolism, and style of the play shows Lorca’s interest in modernism. “He was a friend of Dalí and Luis Buñuel but they didn’t feel he was avant garde enough!” says Ian, “but yet his work was an affront to conservative sensibilities in Spain.”
La Casa De Bernarda Alba runs in the Town Hall Studio from Thursday April 3 to Saturday 5 at 8.30pm. Tickets are €12/10 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie