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A 'House' Divided but Built on Solid Ground

May 14, 1999|JANA J. MONJI

In Deaf West Theatre's production of Federico Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" at the Ventura Court Theatre, Phyllis Frelich is a solid, oppressive presence as the sadistically strict mother, Bernarda, and Deanne Bray's earthy, rebellious Adela sparks a suitable challenge.

Their fiery portrayals blaze much brighter than the rest of the cast. Linda Bove is both comical and no-nonsense as Bernarda's servant, but as the other daughters, Antoinette Abbamonte, Margaret Arnold, Freda Norman and Cami Varela, are overwhelmed by Frelich and Bray.

Unlike the Deaf West productions that mix signing actors onstage with speaking actors, this production has only one onstage actor who speaks, the senile grandmother (April Shawhan). Voice actors Lynn Milgrim, Dashia Quintero, Madeleine Weissenberg, Jennifer Snipstad and Laurie Woolery sit in balconies above the stage, providing voice interpretation of the English translation by Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata.

This sounds daunting, yet under Larry Arrick's direction, Bray's every movement expresses carnal liberation and the sensual joy of love. Bray and her voice interpreter, Snipstad, merge into one powerful entity. Frelich, who has a more understated role, still connects with the audience and with voice actor Milgrim.

Yet without an ensemble capable of rising to the same level, you don't feel the immensity of the tragedy in the end, the horribly repressive future that will, ironically in this production, be marked by silence.

On Bob Steinberg's hacienda courtyard set, the barred windows suggest both protection and a jail. The House of Bernarda is a place where good reputation and social status imprison, resulting in women desperate for love or lust.


* "The House of Bernarda Alba," Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends June 13. $12-$20. (818) 762-2773; (818) 762-2782 (TTY). Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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