Malia Abayon, left, and Maria Candelaria appear in the UC Davis department of theater and dance's production of "The House of Bernarda Alba," directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Juliette Carrillo. The show will be presented Thursdays through Sundays, March 8-18, at the Main Theatre in Wright Hall on the UCD campus. Timmy Huynh/Courtesy photo


UC Davis actors give a modern twist to Lorca’s famous play

Check it out

What: “The House of Bernarda Alba,” based on translation by Chay Yew, written by Federico García Lorca and directed by UC Davis Granada Artist-in-Residence Juliette Carrillo

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, March 8-18

Where: Main Theatre, Wright Hall, UCD

Tickets: $17/$19 general, $12/$14 students, children and seniors; www.mondaviarts.org; (530) 754-2787
By Janice Bisgaard
A timeless production of “The House of Bernarda Alba,” directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Juliette Carrillo, will grace the stage at the UC Davis Main Theatre this month.

Carillo’s interpretation of Federico García Lorca’s famous work (written in 1936) and based on a new adaptation by Chay Yew is Victorian Gothic with a modern twist. Wrought with sexual tension, “The House of Bernarda Alba” inspects the effects of a male-dominated and hierarchical society upon women as five daughters are confined to their mother’s house for an eight-year period of mourning.

Performances are March 8-18 in the Main Theatre at Wright Hall at UCD. This production by the UCD department of theater and dance is rated PG-13 for sexuality, adult language and violence.

Carrillo said the production, though often grim, is inspired by the energy of Spanish culture — especially duende, the soulful, highly emotional quality that often characterizes Spanish people and art such as flamenco dance. Lorca frequently spoke of the duende in his work.

“Even though the play is dark and goes to difficult places emotionally, it’s also surprisingly funny,” Carrillo said. “There’s also some lovely dancing and singing. It’s a very full theatrical experience.”

In addition, audiences may find much to relate to in the play’s themes of repression and freedom. Carrillo said she found that many cast members had dealt with repression in their own lives.

“Sexual repression, but also personal repression,” Carrillo said. “Students feeling misunderstood and squelched by their parents, by school bureaucracy, by our culture. I think our audiences will identify with the intense human need for freedom.”

Costume designer Maggie Chan said that while the costumes may at first glance appear to be Victorian, the designs are actually modern. Corsets and the contrast between dark and bright colors demonstrate the difference between the characters trapped inside the Alba house and those who are free on the outside.

Vocals and electric guitar add a haunting dimension to the play’s themes of repression, passion and conformity. Composer Dan Wilson said he’s “pulled out all the stops” to create a sweeping world of sound, which also includes wine bottles, African drums and even rhythmic clapping.

“My biggest focus for the music is to create an aural landscape and environment for the performers to journey through,” Wilson said.“Our planet Earth itself has inspired me — the more I dig into this show the more it is (at least for me) about the dark, cold, conflicted and confined inner world of the human-made house versus the vast expanse of our natural habitat where we can feel like we are truly free to roam in peace under the warm light of our star.”

The cast agreed that Carrillo’s collaborative directing style has allowed them to be creative in their own interpretations of Lorca’s work.

“This is our own version of the play, within a modern cultural context,” said Susan-Jane Harrison, a first-year master of fine arts candidate in dramatic art, who plays Bernarda.

Bella Merlin, a UCD professor of acting, plays Maria Josefa, Bernarda’s aging mother who lives beneath the floorboards of the Alba home. Merlin said her own grandmother, dementia patients and the idea of the mythical “hobgoblin” spirit have all inspired her embodiment of the character.

“I want the audience to be touched, amused, disgusted, surprised, unsettled, enamored,” Merlin said. “To be intrigued by her, like you might be intrigued by a rather strange spider.”

Carrillo is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and is most known for her world premiere of “Lydia” by Octavio Solis, produced at Denver Theater Center, Yale Repertory Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The New York Times described her work on “Lydia” as “seductive and strong. Juliette Carrillo has directed with enormous skill and knowing compassion.”

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