photo: Susan Roche
photo: Susan Roche
photo: Susan Roche
photo: Susan Roche

Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea wrapped up a two-weekend run of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. This is an after-the-fact review, as the Dual Critics were unable to attend the opening weekend due to several other commitments. The story is one of repression and oppression set in a small village in Spain in 1936; the production is an outstanding piece of theatre.
The play opens in the house of the hard-as-nails Bernarda Alba shortly after the death of her second husband. Kiki Tovey, who lives in St. Augustine, is terrifically terrifying as the tyrannical mother of five eccentric daughters. She declares that her children will observe a mourning period of eight years in accordance with family tradition.
Angustias (Ingrid McCawley) is the eldest daughter, age thirty-nine; her father was Bernarda’s first husband. While her step-sisters will inherit very little, Angustias will be receiving substantial material wealth, based on the affluence of her father. She thus attracts the romantic interest of Pepe el Romano, a young man who never appears on stage. Since he works most of the day, he sees her at one o’clock in the morning and plans are made for a marriage. Unknown to Angustias, Pepe then secretly sees her younger and more attractive sister Adela (Evelyn Peralta) shortly afterward, to pursue a far more intimate relationship.
The other sisters, Amelia (Michelle Ruiz), Magdelena (Katina Higgins) and Martirio (Olivia Gowan) have jealousies and rivalries that come to a head as they face the frustration of not having any males in their lives for the next eight years.
The second most influential person in the lives of the daughters is Bernarda’s older, earthy, and feisty housekeeper, Poncia, played to exactitude by Robyn Neal. Poncia also rules over a servant (Heather Goodling) and their exchanges provided some humor in what is a truly serious play. Gwen Cordes makes a cameo appearance as a neighbor, Prudence and as a funeral attendee.
Catherine Courtney makes an impressive Players by the Sea debut as Bernarda’s senile mother, Maria Josefa.
Others in the cast are people that come the to funeral and include Emily Suarez(Beggar Girl), Gretta Russe (first woman), Suzanne Scheuble (girl), Carolyn Hirsch (third woman), Deb Wolfe (fourth woman), and Elyn Wolfe (fifth woman).
The Play’s Director, Holly Gutshall, had lived in Spain for several years and wanted a very realistic set, and Set Designer Joe Schwarz provided one. The large interior living space has whitewashed walls, a terra cotta tiled floor, wooden furniture pieces, and opened doors that reveal a fountain and a flowering garden.
Deborah Wolfe made her debut as a costume designer. She was quite creative with variations of black mourning dress that included tiered skirts, touches of lace, and snoods and veils. Laura Mauldin’s hair styles were perfect for the Spanish period setting.
Susan Roche was stage manager, and also contributed some very interesting sound effects that explained action going on outside of the home. Technical Director Jim Wiggins designed the evocative lighting.
Director Holly Gutshall had a remarkable cast of women who gave very believable performances. It was refreshing to see so much new talent on that stage, and so very good as well.
Thanks, Players for the terrific playbill that was so complete with good biographies of all the cast and crew. We appreciate them, and we know the cast did too.
The House of Bernarda Alba does not have a happy ending, as Adela commits suicide by hanging herself because she has lost the man she loves. Bernarda orders the servants to dress her dead body as a virgin because she will not have her house shamed. Despite the difficult material, or perhaps because of it, we found the production a very involving and moving evening of theatre.