| Culture |

The House of Bernarda Alba's Measured Melodrama at Arsht Center

's execution in the Spanish Civil War.
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Lorca was a man comprised equally of progressive social values and untameable passion.

And accordingly, one of his greatest tragedies is not only a harsh critique of custom, decorum and values, but also a raw depiction of the intense emotional responses produced by repression.

The literal house of Bernarda Alba is an airtight vacuum devoid of color, save for the glowing red candles honoring the recently deceased Señor Alba. His widow (and the play's titular character as performed with ferocious vigor by Isabel Moreno) is a true domestic fascist: upon the death of her husband, she has imposed a dreary eight years of mourning upon her already sequestered - and notably boy-crazy - five daughters. She taunts, teases and shouts down their every ambition or dream along the way.

Her repression stems from a curious ven-diagram of authoritarian influences: the conservative family values of early 20th century Spain; the intense, omnipresent guilt of Catholicism; and the petty paranoia of high-class society. Bitter from a lifetime of rigid tradition and constricting societal expectations, Bernarda Alba would rather shield her daughters from the world entirely than allow them to become sullied from its influences.

While Lorca's lens is, in part, focused on high society, the socially progressive poet and playwright knew to avoid the trappings and assumptions of bourgeois dramaturgy by pairing his upperclass narrative with a parallel working-class strain.

Head-of-housekeeping La Poncia, gracefully played by Elena Maria Garcia, displays the multiplicity inherent in her line of work: She is housekeeper, gossip collector, and surrogate mother to the lost Alba girls as they internally combust over a shared love interest - the oft-discussed but never seen Pepe "el Romano" - and the harsh oppression of their mother. Her identity is most fluid as it relates to Senora Alba: at one moment her biggest critic, the other her closest confidant.

The House of Bernada Alba is an exploration into the damning effects societal expectations -- of class, of gender, of sexual activity -- can have on personal expression and development. Though depicting hysterical characters endowed with Lorca's grandiose gift for gab (not to mention the formalizing that often comes with translation), the cast measured their melodrama perfectly.

The aforementioned Moreno and Garcia, as well as the actresses performing feuding sisters Angustias (Amandina Altomare) and Martirio (Rachel Lipman), all expressed their rage and confusion with an engulfing realism that never distracted with over-the-top histrionics.

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