Women's issues drive 'Bernarda Alba'

November 5, 2012

Pat Sandoval directs The House of Bernarda Alba. The HCC Players in The House of Bernarda Alba.

Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba is set in a small Spanish village in the 1930s, just before the start of the Spanish Civil War, but, according to director Patricia Sandoval, the play transcends both time and place in its exploration of women's issues.

"This play is about women's desires and women's roles in society and how women then and sometimes now are bound by the expectations of society, family and religion," says Sandoval. "The play is about how we are all bound by what is expected of us."

The HCC Players will perform The House of Bernarda Alba Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 15-17, at 8 p.m. in the Leslie Phillips Theater in HCC's Fine and Performing Arts Building. There will also be a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17.

The play will feature live music by classical guitarist Phillip de Fremery, a music instructor at HCC and Mount Holyoke College, who will perform from a platform in the audience.

Following the funeral of her second husband, Bernarda Alba announces to her five daughters that their period of mourning will last eight years. However, they all have a secret passion for Pepe el Romano, the handsomest man in the village.  Their jealousy, passion, fear and anger collide with Bernarda's obsession to protect family honor.

"This is a very complicated and beautiful piece of work," says Sandoval. "The actors can't hold back. It has to be a full emotional commitment to capture the anguish, despair and loss. It's one of the most important plays of the20th century. I love the atmosphere of the time and place, the music, the language, the religion, the relationships they have. There's conflict - of course, there would be conflict; they all love the same man. It all makes for wonderful drama."

As a gay man living in Spain in the 1930s, Lorca faced oppression not unlike that experienced by the characters in the play.

"I think Lorca really understands these women," says Sandoval. "He felt just as trapped as they felt. He understood their struggle."

In the end, the prolific poet and playwright paid the ultimate price. He was murdered by Fascist forces in 1936 at the age of 38. 

There are no male characters in the play. The main love interest, Pepe el Romano, never appears on stage. "But everything that happens to the women in the play is because of the men in their lives and because of patriarchy," says Sandoval.  "Everyone talks about Pepe el Romano. Lorca wrote it so we can all imagine what a leading man would be in our own minds."

Even so, there will be a man on stage. The title character of Bernarda Alba is being played by one, HCC student and Westfield resident Adrean Mejias, although the casting of a male actor in the  role of the play's tyrannical matriarch was not Sandoval's original intention.

"Adrean simply had the best audition," she says. "It seemed to fit, because the play is about gender roles and gender identity."

Tickets for The House of Bernarda Alba are $10 (general admission), $8 (students and seniors) and $5 (HCC students, faculty, staff) and are available at the door or in advance by calling (413) 552-2485. The box office opens an hour before each performance. Area high schools are invited to bring their students to a free dress rehearsal, Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 11 a.m. and also take part in a panel discussion and tour of the HCC set design shop.

Photos: (Left) Patricia Sandoval instructs actors during a rehearsal of The House of Bernarda Alba. (Right) Dorothy Pam, of Amherst; Krissa Fondakowski, of Easthampton; Erika Leigh, of Longmeadow; Rebecca Berliner, of Hampden; Adrean Mejias, of Westfield; and Molly O'Brien, of Springfield.


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