By Josy Miller of Arts Initiative Story Corps
In the auditions for The House of Bernarda Alba, director Juliette Carillo asked that rather than delivering the usual, requisite monologue, the actors perform a story about a moment in which they felt oppressed. The purpose of this exercise, according to Carillo, was to initiate personal, contemporary relationships with the geographically and culturally distant text from the beginning of the production process.
“There is a lot in the play that is very historically specific – it’s the 1930s in Spain, they’re living under Fascism – but we still need to create a rendering for a contemporary audience,” said Carillo, the 2012 Granada Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Theatre and Dance, about the challenge of interpreting the work of acclaimed Spanish playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca.
The play, which runs March 8 – 17 in the Main Theatre, is arguably Lorca’s masterpiece and the last he completed before his assassination by the Fascist Regime. Set in a rural town in Andalusia, the piece explores the life of Bernarda Alba and her five daughters in the period of mourning after the death of their patriarch.
Creating an exquisite dance of physical and psychological control, Lorca unflinchingly examines the ways in which women struggle with one another under patriarchal oppression. A crucial motivation for the tragic action of the play stems from the constant repression of the female characters’ problematic, unattractive emotions – specifically anger and desire – another way in which the play can speak to contemporary society. “Women still feel compelled to repress expressions of anger. What happens to us when we can’t express that?” asked Carillo.
A specifically provocative aspect of the text is the extent to which each of the characters is responsible for prolonging their own repression, according to Dramatic Art MFA student Maria Candelaria who plays Bernarda Alba’s maid and confidant La Poncia.
“It’s really an allegory for 1930s Spain under Fascism,” said Candelaria. “How did women – how did individuals – live in and function in and perpetuate that institution?”
Since there is no single target for villainization, the text provides particularly challenging and fertile material from which the all-female cast can develop their characters’ objectives and tactics. “We have to continually ask ourselves, ‘How do we all contribute to the forward motion of the tragedy?’” said Candelaria. In Lorca’s drama, no one is off the hook.
Calendaria commends the director for creating a process that facilitated and encouraged the actresses’ profound work with the play. “Juliette works very incrementally – what’s the task at hand? She has such a clear, fluid style.” Calendaria said.
For more than two decades, the Granada Artist-in-Residence program has brought professional artists to UC Davis each quarter to teach and create performance works with students. Former Granada Artists have included William Gaskill, Kate Whoriskey, Guillermo Gomez-Pena and dozens of other creative luminaries from around the globe. This spring, the program will host choreographers Rennie Harris and Ellen Bromberg.
Carillo herself has worked extensively with South Coast Repertory Theatre and Cornerstone Theatre, and directed the highly acclaimed world premiere of Octavio Solis’s Lydia at the Denver Center. The program is an incredible resource for the students at UC Davis, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for the visiting artist, Carillo noted. “It’s great to be working in a room with people eager to collaborate. There are a lot of creative juices flowing.”
For more details on the production and tickets, see http://theatredance.ucdavis.edu/season/prod_details.aspx?p=43.