REVIEW by Willard Manus

Thanks to Chay Yew's rewrite, Lisa Peterson's staging and Rachel Hauck's striking black & white set, THE HOUSE OF BERNADA ALBA, Federico Garcia Lorca's 1936 attack on puritannical Spain, gets a touching up that not only beautifies it but gives it a fresh jolt of relevance. The actors, led by Chita Rivera as the ferociously moralistic Bernada, do an equally impressive job, delivering Lorca/Yew's poetic language with clarity and fire.

Lorca paints Bernada as a recently widowed woman who is so obsessed with her family's honor, which she locates in the loins of her five unmarried daughters, that she decrees that all five of these young women must mourn the patriarch's death by restricting themselves to the house for eight years. It's a harsh, unreasonable edict (in the last century, normal mourning time in Mediterranean countries was one year) but she is determined to enforce it, even though her one confidante, the bawdy housekeeper Poncia (the show-stealing Camille Saviola), warns her that it can only lead to rebellion and trouble. Yew and Peterson, in an attempt to make the play more universal and modern, have sprinkled Asian faces throughout the large cast (there is a chorus and a strolling musician). This gives Sandra Oh the chance to show
her power as the angry, defiant Adela. Tsai Chin also registers strongly as the lusty maid, Maria Josefa.


Lorca's tragic play not only attacks Bernada's haughtiness and puritanism but the kind of family values espoused in the USA by the Christian right and by Muslim fundamentalists elsewhere. For that reason alone, this well-crafted, vibrant production should not be missed by anyone who cares about these life and death issues.

At the Mark Taper Forum through Sept. 1. Call (213) 628-2772