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After her husband dies, she decrees that her five adult female offspring will do nothing but mourn for eight years--prisoners in their own home, with marriage as the only possible escape route. In a small village in Spain, she would probably argue, what choice did she have?
The recent attention focused on misogyny, Taliban-style, is a reminder that this kind of cultural conditioning is hardly extinct. Still, it seems so remote from contemporary urban society that a theatergoer entering the Mark Taper Forum to see Chita Rivera as Bernarda Alba may wonder whether this play can be anything beyond a grim documentary about another time, another place.
But Chay Yew, author of the adaptation at the Taper, and director Lisa Peterson generally ignore that admonition. And the play comes alive. Likewise, we see the stifling torpor in the household without literally experiencing it inside the theater. I take it back. This Bernarda is not a witch. She pokes her squat frame into every corner of the household, regaling the daughters with tales from her own marriage, offering words of wisdom to her employers despite their class-based prejudices against her, occasionally exploding with curt Anglo-Saxon imprecations.
Shaheen Vaaz plays the younger, quieter maid with almost equal authority. Marissa Chibas plays the eldest, betrothed sister with hapless befuddlement, accented by an amusing polka-dotted mourning outfit from costumer Joyce Kim Lee. Eileen Galindo capably portrays the most cynical sister. A strolling Annas Allaf stirs up the surfaces not only with his oud and guitar, but also as the only tangible evidence that the mysterious other sex actually exists.
Grand Ave. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p. Ends with the matinee on Sept. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes no intermission. Adapted by Chay Yew. Directed by Lisa Peterson. Set by Rachel Hauck.