‘Bernarda’s Daughters’ Evaluate: Sisters Grieve a Father, and a Residence
Federico García Lorca described his oft-adapted “La Casa de Bernarda Alba” merely as a “drama of ladies within the villages of Spain.” But because the Haitian American playwright Diane Exavier is aware of, every time ladies collect — particularly throughout occasions of mourning — there may be at all times extra at stake.
Exavier takes inspiration from Lorca’s work to craft “Bernarda’s Daughters,” however she replaces the tyrannical mom of the unique with the oppressive smother of a New York City summer time. Bernarda — referred to right here as Mommy — isn’t seen however lets her 5 daughters cycle by means of the household dwelling within the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush as they watch over their grandmother Florence (Tamara Tunie) and grieve their not too long ago deceased father.
Men stay absent on this play as they do in Lorca’s, and their stench lingers. It’s partly a literal stench, represented by bushels of their father’s laundry the daughters should clear earlier than Mommy returns. But extra emblematically, it’s a figurative stink, reeking of the unappreciated sacrifices these ladies make for his or her males — particularly the eldest daughter, Louise (Pascale Armand) — even lengthy after these males are within the floor.
Mommy is absent as a result of she’s laying her husband to relaxation in Haiti, the place it’s “cheaper than burying somebody in Brooklyn.” Much of “Bernarda’s Daughters” hinges on quips like these, which relay Exavier’s concepts about gentrification. The play hardly ever feedback on the systemic causes of this drawback however reminds us of its results: the deafening drum of building, the garish view of recent high-rises and the proliferation of fancy espresso retailers. As Bernarda’s second youngest, Adela (Taji Senior), sourly notes, “It’s a special Brooklyn on the market.”
The sisters’ loss, then, just isn’t solely private, it’s territorial. And every of Bernarda’s daughters responds in another way. Grief makes the high-strung Louise greedier, the noble Harriet (Alana Raquel Bowers) hungrier for love, the ever-amorous Maryse (Malika Samuel) lustier, the righteous Adela faster to anger, and the naïve Lena (Kristin Dodson) extra dissociative, as she takes solace in her beloved actuality reveals. When the sisters do collect, their banter is humorous and animated. But occasionally Exavier has a sister peel off to trudge by means of a metaphor-laced sermon.
The director, Dominique Rider, demonstrates much less management over these momentum-stealing soliloquies than he does the extra naturalistic dialogue, tamping down the manufacturing’s bouncy vitality with low-spirited melodrama. And Carlos J. Soto’s bleak scenic design provides little assist. His set is an angular cavern of black mesh curtains and obtrusive columns, the alternative of each colourful and crowded Haitian dwelling I’ve identified.
Abstraction doesn’t serve this work, which in the end thrives on specificity. Taking cues from island scribes just like the Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite and the Jamaican dramatist Sylvia Wynter — whose translation of Lorca largely influenced “Bernarda’s Daughters” — Exavier makes use of this play to emphasise the significance of belonging to a spot, and the way painful it’s to consign your recollections of that place to the grave when its essence disappears. No marvel her characters reel off so many precise avenue names within the neighborhood — “the rubbish throughout Rogers,” “the Macy’s on Fulton,” “the grill on Church.” The naming is an act of remembrance, a solution to protect a house.
Bernarda’s Daughters Through June 4 on the Pershing Square Signature Center, Manhattan; thenewgroup.org. Running time: 1 hour half-hour.
This evaluate is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to put money into the work of cultural critics from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.