Epic’s Mighty, Mighty House of Bernarda Alba Puts a Female Face to Fascism

Carol Schlink

Carol Schlink

Epic Theatre Company is kicking off 2019 with Emily Mann’s adaptation of Federico García Lorca’s acclaimed drama The House of Bernarda Alba under the direction of Carol Schlink.

Federico Garcia Lorca is widely considered to be Spain’s most important playwright and poet. The author of Blood Wedding and Yerma, his last work, The House of Bernarda Alba, was completed in 1938, just two short months before the playwright was executed. Only 38 years old when he was murdered by pro-fascist forces, Lorca soon became an early martyr in the opening days of the Spanish Civil War.

While The House of Bernarda Alba is Lorca’s dark reflection on the suffocating oppression of fascism, the absence of any male actors in the script does not prevent the characters from being subjected to domination and tyranny. After the death of her husband, matriarch Bernarda Alba shutters her household, keeping her five unmarried daughters inside in mourning away from the outside world – and from all men – for eight years.

“Bernarda is one of the great, tragic theatrical heroines,” said Epic Theatre Company artistic director Kevin Broccoli, “and this play has been on our collective wish list for a while. It was important to me to have this play helmed by a woman, and also by a woman who feels passionately about social justice, so I immediately thought of the brilliant Carol Schlink.”

While this is Schlink’s first time directing for Epic, she is no stranger to local stages as an actor and director, and is a well-known theater educator, having led the Mt. Hope High School drama program for 15 years until her retirement in 2017.

Schlink is effusive about the opportunity, and said, “I’m working with a dynamite cast and crew — and I’m grateful to Kevin Broccoli for this opportunity to direct such an important play.”

While keeping Lorca’s Spanish setting for the play intact, Schlink was intent on using a diverse cast of women from different cultural backgrounds in order to create, as she says, “a sense of unity between all women. We are still struggling to embrace who we are — including our thoughts, feelings and sexuality — even in the 21st century, even in the United States.

“We wanted to include as many different cultural backgrounds as we could in Bernarda’s family,” she explains, “but, I realized that I didn’t really know many culturally diverse actors … kind of shocking and sad actually.” She goes on to say that Broccoli “came to the rescue here, recruiting from his associations with a multitude of actors and directors.”

The Epic Theatre production features Michelle L. Walker as the titular Bernarda Alba, and boasts a powerhouse roster of local actresses, including Laura Ash, Paula Faber, Alexis Ingram, Sonya Joyner, Ricci Mann, Becky Minard, Shannon Rose Ott, Catia Ramos and Marina Tejada.

As for the production’s design and tone, Schlink explained her goal is to keep things minimal, “This is a dark play — and as I didn’t want to assign a specific time period, the set is black, stark and spare, with one small platform and cubes that are used as chairs. That’s it.”

She tapped Alex Sprague to light the show, and explained that his “beautiful and effective light design adds nuance as well as insight. I want the audience to fill in the blanks — sort of what we do when we read a novel — our mind creates the details that best serve us.”

Schlink adds that one of the challenges facing her as director was to not lose Lorca’s intent and focus while still sharing this story of struggle with women in all cultures. She explained, “Most of us have experienced oppression and/or repression from family, culture or society. If I’ve done my job well — and the cast certainly has — then hopefully all women of all ages will see bits of themselves in the women who share this story.”

The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, adapted by Emily Mann and directed by Carol Schlink runs Jan 11 – 26 at Theatre 82, located at 82 Rolfe Square in Cranston. Tickets at artists-exchange.org/events.html

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