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A CurtainUp Review
The House of Bernarda Alba

Federico Garcia Lorca's classic play about a household of women repressed by a domineering mother was adapted and directed by Chay Yew for National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) in 2000. It returns to Off-Broadway as part of the June 11th to 24th first National Asian American Theater Festival (NAATF). It again stars actress Ching Valdes-Aran in the title role. The rest of the all Asian-American cast of women includes Kati Kuroda, Natsuko Ohama, Ali Ahn, Carmen Herlihy, Maile Holck, Mia Katigbak, Sue Jean Kim, Jeanne Sakata and Sophia Skiles.

The current production is at the Baruch Performing Arts Center's Nagelberg Theater,55 Lexington Avenue, at 25th Street from 6/04/07 to 6/23/07. Performances: Mondays-Fridays at 7pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 7pm. Set design by Mikiko Suzuki, lighting by Stephen Petrilli, costume design by Clint Ramos, original music by Fabian Obispo, and choreography by Mildred Ruiz. For more details about the Festival, visit the web site: www.NAATF.org

Les Gutman's review of the production in 2000 below


The review of the NAATCO production in 2000
A woman without a man is wicked.
---F. G. Lorca via Chay Yew
5 Girls and 1 Helluva Mother (Photo: Carol Rosegg)


A stark blond-wood platform, blood-red rose petals scattered at its sides, a branch of a red-blooming cherry tree overhead, an enormous white rectangle painted on a black brick wall at its rear, surrounded by 20 or so chairs that might have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Tokyo's Imperial Hotel in each of which an Asian woman dressed in black sits. One's initial impression of Chay Yew's beautifully realized production of Lorca's masterpiece, The House of Bernarda Alba, is of its Asian influences.

This may seem routine to newcomers to this theater company, but as someone familiar with NAATCO's mission and prior work -- presentations of "classic" plays employing many of the finest Asian actors but without specific Asian cultural references -- I was a little surprised. Was NAATCO taking a detour from its traditional philosophy that seemed to work so well? 

I'm delighted to report that the answer is no. Once Yew's adaptation, gently contemporized but exceedingly faithful, gets under way, it is Lorca's essential Andalusian sensibility that permeates throughout. Perhaps the end-product reveals a more universal Lorca, but it remains his "Spanish Earth" that we can practically taste.

Bernarda Alba is fascinating because it is a play with only women, and yet manipulated in so many ways by men. (And I don't even particularly include the fact that it was written and here has been adapted and directed by men.) It is a tragedy about the nature of the male of the species and the manner in which they affect women, both by their presence and their absence.

We meet Bernarda (Ching Valdes-Aran) as she returns with her five daughters from the funeral of her second husband. Already a stern, brutal matriarch, she clamps down even more: ordering that her daughters mourn for eight years. Although each girl is distinguishable (the eldest, Angustias (Natsuko Ohama), the only child of Bernarda's first husband, is unattractive; Magdalena (Sophia Morae), the most like her mother; Amelia (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), bookish and possessed of very modern feminist ideas; Martirio (Julyana Soelistyo), mostly quiet but damagingly resentful; and young Adela (Eunice Wong), the most bewitching and not surprisingly immature), each suffers in some sense from the exclusion of men from her life -- a means of quenching, in Adela's words, the "fire" that is "coursing through my legs."

Enter Pepe el Romano, the best looking young man in town (well, not enter -- no men are actually seen in The House of Bernarda Alba), seeking the hand of Angustias in marriage, because it is she alone among the sisters who has wealth. This does not stop him from having an affair with beautiful Adela -- who has the cajones to wear red -- nor does it temper Martirio's jealousy. The cane-wielding, witch-like Bernarda has quite a cauldron on her hands. 

Stirring the pot even more are Bernarda's two maids, Blanca (Michi Barall, for whom NAATCO Artistic Director Mia Katigbak subbed at the production I saw), who suffers in her own right since she was the dead husband's lover, and La Poncia (Kati Kuroda), Bernarda's would-be confidant, conveniently an inveterate gossip and snoop as well. Oh yes, and Bernarda's silver-haired mother (Gusti Bogard), kept by Bernarda in the dungeon, and delusional either because of or as a result of this. (She wears a white wedding gown, and talks of getting married and having a baby.) The end is tragic, as much or more than one would expect if we didn't know.

Mr. Yew has brilliantly accented the proceedings with a chorus of twelve black-clad women who sometimes clap, sometimes sing or hum and occasionally enter the story. The sum effect -- aided by Stephen Petrilli's dramatic lighting, a couple of songs by Fabian Obispo and even Kristin Jackson's choreography -- is stunning. Yew executes a trunkful of splendid ideas (both in his dramaturgy and stagecraft) worthy of extended discussion that I'll resist engaging in here. 

NAATCO has repeatedly presented actors whose talents exceed our expectations for inexpensive off-off-Broadway stages, and this play is no exception. Indeed, the ten cast members bring extraordinary resources to this stage, and I wish time and space permitted me to discuss the abundant luxury in detail. I feel compelled to single out the Obie-winning Ching Valdes-Aran, who presents us with a Bernarda as hard as a rock and yet who shatters like a piece of delicate crystal. The other performance I mention specially is a surprise. Kati Kuroda's La Poncia is masterful; she forcefully commands our attention and engagingly entertains, coming close to stealing the show. 

Several years ago, CurtainUp reviewed another adaptation of Bernarda Alba, Migdalia Cruz's Another Part of the House (see link below). That proved to be an unsatisfying experience that veered drastically from the beauty of Lorca's great play. NAATCO and Chay Yew have righted that ship, honoring this classical treasure with the stature it deserves.
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA
by Federico Garcia Lorca
Adapted and directed by Chay Yew
with Ching Valdes-Aran, Gusti Bogard, Natsuko Ohama, Sophia Morae, Julienne Hanzelka Kim, Julyana Soelistyo, Eunice Wong, Michi Barall (replaced by Mia Katigbak at reviewed performance), Kati Kuroda and Jo Yang, plus a chorus of 12
Set Design: Sarah Lambert
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Costume Design: Elly van Horne
Sound Design: Lauara Grace Brown
Composer: Fabian Obispo
Choreographer: Kristin Jackson
Fight Choreographer: Michael G. Chin
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes with no intermission
A production of the National Asian-American Theatre Company (NAATCO)
Intar Theatre, 508 West 53rd Street (10/11 Avs.) (718) 623-1672
NAATCO website: www.naatco.org
Opened 12/6/2000 closes 12/23/2000
Mon. - Sat. @7, Sat. @ 2, $19 
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 12/1 performance
broadwaynewyork.com


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