Lorca in a time of tyranny

Scowling and stamping her cane, as soon as the door was closed and we were hermetically sealed inside her house, Bernarda Alba (Charlaye Blair) dominated the stage of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical from the start. Only towards the end, with the horrific scene outside (a young woman who had murdered her baby born out of wedlock pursued by a stone-throwing mob) did we understand the tremendous social pressure she was under to keep her virgin daughters inside and inviolate until their wedding day. The heavy cross on the wall beside the huge wooden door, the smoking thurible (wielded with the rhythmic clink that marks the expert thurifer) and the imagined image of the Virgin, addressed in prayer, all set the scene for the patriarchal funeral and the funereal matriarchal atmosphere that followed.

Megan-Louise Fraser had the hard job of performing alternatively as virgin, mother and crone in the characters of the mad Maria Josepha, the matronly (and plainly bored) neighbour Prudencia and the young maid, lowest of the low in this very hierarchical household. The contrast between her youthful features and the dress and grey hair of the mother of Bernarda Alba gave us the insight that inside every grandmother there still lives a young woman.

Gemma Elmes (servant) set her face with all the strong character of the gitanas of Andalucia, yet could also be merry and her voice was a delight. Erin McCullagh (Poncia) played the part of the poor relation well and provided an occasional buffer to the tyranny of the mother of the five unfortunate girls.

Such was the magic of this show that we were persuaded by the insistence of the cast to suspend our disbelief and accept that the very beautiful Abbie MacNeil (Angustias) was, in fact, the ugly sister – though the one lucky enough to receive the attentions of the never-seen male suitor. That she was not the only one receiving his attention was the constant rumour, suspicion, jealously and scandal of the other sisters: dignified but playful Magdalena (Heather Crook) and Amelia (Johanne Rishaug Hellman); besotted Martirio (Caitlin Mae); and minxy Adela (Laura Sweeney).

This challenging show was beautifully choreographed by Kally Lloyd-Jones, with the dancers moving now in unison, now in a complex swirl of stage-setting and striking poses lit by the changing hues of set and lighting designer John Holding. Stage management by Holly Adams was, as it should be for this most self-effacing theatrical role, so good it was invisible.

Having lived in Granada for years, I must confess my initial disappointment that more was not made of flamenco rhythms but on reflection the high social status of the household may well have included a disdain for the music of the pueblo and I could not fault the melancholy combination of oboe/ cor anglais, viola and cello, nor the brio of the guitar-playing by Ross Wilson. Directing the music (and playing piano) Christopher Breckenridge accompanied the cast as they moved effortlessly from intoning liturgical chant to singing the sinister ribaldry of Three Moorish Girls.

With such cast, accompaniment, setting and lighting, director Tom Cooper had all the ingredients of a great show and with percussionist Antony Irwin, and strategic slams of the cane, the door and the chairs, the dramatic effect of the action was startling. With no visual required, everyone in the audience knew what we were witnessing at the last scene and – whether we knew the story or not – everyone gasped.

A timely mediation on tyranny and the oppression of women – even (and especially) by each other. 

Bernarda Alba is performed by GAMTA.

gypsy-girl-with-mandolin-c-1870

Thanks to Dawn Hudson, who has released her photo “Gypsy Girl With Mandolin, C. 1870” (Public domain vintage painting by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, available from The National Gallery of Art) into the Public Domain

 

Fascism & Families

At least this time of the year, TV nuclear families are a little more extended. There could be up to 12 people round the table noshing into some unfortunate fowl. That’s three times the usual number because, as we know, the usual number of family members is four. Three of these have blonde hair, one has black hair, all four are White and nominally Christian and preferably Protestant (even if evidently Jewish). We know this because this is how things have always been. Always and in every place. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; Abraham (and everybody else); Jesus, Mary and Joseph; all royal families and our own family. The one we all grew up in. It’s reassuring.

There are, it has to be admitted, certain types who have other ‘arrangements’. These people are usually foreigners, not nice, heretics, and noisy. Trains don’t run on time where they come from. In our TV town, neighbours greet each other and everyone leaves the door open. Even though they immediately plonk keys into a wee bowl on the wee table right next to the unlocked door. Well, we can’t expect TV to mirror reality exactly.

So where does this black haired White man with his Nordic spouse and offspring hail from? The answer’s in the question. The clues are an adjective and a verb. The verb relates to a greeting that was originally pronounced ave and in more modern times salve and heil. The adjective describes the location of this fascist fantasy.

Mediterranean fascists (normalised as black haired White men) fantasised about ‘raising the colour’ – that dreadful expression familiar to anyone with experience of colonial racism. Have you ever wondered why so many White women, as distinct from White men, feel the urge to dye their hair blonde? The black haired White husband with the blonde White wife and two Nordic children has become so normalised on TV portrayals of generic families that it’s now unremarkable.

Umberto Eco, in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, an archaeology of fascist family memory, shows just how explicit was the erasure of multicultural Mediterranean identity in children’s and adult literature sanctioned by church and state in Italy and Spain during the reigns of Mussolini and Franco.

This erasure continues today. Extended families are like unexpected gifts of puppy dogs. Just for Christmas. They have no place in today’s TV nuclear family. Fascist dictators may have initially encouraged large families, with the connivance of the Catholic Church, but family size can always be altered at the convenience of the state. ‘Two will do’ is a eugenic command that TV has obeyed.

So when you see a Mediterranean patriarch with his peachy Uberwife and a pair of apple cheeked children, think about all the households you know, with all their other arrangements. Think about how this TV fascist family makes them feel.

It’s not all tutti frutti, is it?

family-outing-vintage-painting

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing ‘public domain vintage painting of a family outing’ into the public domain.