Another Part of the House
Teatro Vista

Critic's Pick - TimeOut Chicago; Recommended - Chicago Sun Times

Midwest Premiere "Now here's a recipe for madness, murder and more: Take three generations of women. Put them under a kind of house arrest for eight years as part of an involuntary period of mourning and moral protection. Place a single available man

09/19/06 - 10/22/06

Thu-sat 8p; Sun 3p

"Now here's a recipe for madness, murder and more: Take three generations of women. Put them under a kind of house arrest for eight years as part of an involuntary period of mourning and moral protection. Place a single available man (or, more accurately, the illusion of one) just beyond the collective reach of these potentially marriageable women. Then stir with longing, frustration and a growing sense of suffocation. That, in fact, is the witch's brew on tap in "Another Part of the House," contemporary playwright Migdalia Cruz's "re-imagining" of "The House of Bernarda Alba," now being produced by Teatro Vista, Chicago's leading Latino theater troupe. One of the iconic works in the trilogy of "Andalusian tragedies" by Federico Garcia Lorca, widely considered the greatest Spanish playwright and poet of the 20th century, "House" is a supremely difficult drama to carry off with any degree of success, whether in its stark original form or in Cruz's quirky, at times oddly comic, "magic realism-infused" version. In fact, the most successful adaptations of Lorca's trilogy (which also includes "Blood Wedding" and "Yerma") tend to come in the form of flamenco ballets. Raw, primal emotion is key here, as is extreme body language. So it is a credit to director Cecilie D. Keenan and her expertly "choreographed" Teatro Vista cast that they actually manage to make "Another Part of the House" so richly atmospheric, and so true to Lorca's feverish spirit, which rebelled against both the repressive Catholicism of Spain and the fascist rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Bernarda Alba (played with starched severity by Julia Neary) is the fearsome matriarch who, following the death of her husband, declares that none of her five daughters will be permitted to leave her house for a period of eight years. Already trapped up in the attic is Bernarda's ancient mother, Maria Josefa (a wonderfully addled Laura Crotte), who is still spinning half-mad sexual fantasies and who conspires to help in the escape of her youngest granddaughter, Adela (the small, beautiful Rachel Cerda, singing several songs of aching loveliness). The unresolved mother-daughter tensions of one generation are clearly visited upon the next. The five sisters sealed inside their house attempt to compensate for their fate with overactive fantasy lives, obsessive activity and incest. Wedding dresses and dowries get sewn. Seductions by phantom lovers get dreamed up. Just the picture of a man becomes a kind of fetish object. Angustias (Sandra Marquez, full of resigned sadness and biting wit) is the oldest of the sisters, with a father different from the rest. She knows her chances for happiness are over. Magdalena (the tart-tongued Tanya Saracho) continually deconstructs and rebuilds a sewing machine and claims she has no interest in men. She accepts and then fends off the lustful kisses of her sister Amelia (the always intriguing Charin Alvarez), who confesses to a fear of men and who in many ways is the most like her mother. As for Martirio (Ilana Faust), she is the most overtly religious and restrained, but it takes very little for the truth of her passions to emerge. Ironically, the character who often appears to be the freest in this household is Bernarda's black slave, Poncia (fascinating work by the alluring Lily Mojekwu). She speaks her mind with great glee and holds her own with her mistress, with whom she has an exceedingly complex relationship. Playing Pepe -- the elusive groom and goat -- are Juan F. Villa and Adrian Gonzalez. The show's design team has devised a truly haunted, quasi-conventlike environment, with seamlessly integrated sets (by Rick Paul), lighting (Jesse Klug), costumes (Christine Pascual), sound (Mikhail Fiksel) and the work of "invited visual artist" Luis De La Torre. In one of the show's most gruesome (though unseen) scenes, a young woman is stoned to death for her supposed "immorality." And just when you begin to celebrate the idea that some things have changed, you think again, and remember recent headlines about "honor killings" in Africa, India and beyond" - Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times 9/26/06

"Great works of historic literature can irritate because they often seem unfair. Take "The House of Bernarda Alba," that throbbing 1945 Spanish classic by Federico Garcia Lorca It's the tale of five frustrated, vibrant daughters kept under lock and key by a nasty mother more interested in the neighbors' opinions than her daughters' needs. Lorca surely explored the chasm between individual freedom and social convention -- but he did so in the muted fashion of his day. Enter Migdalia Cruz, a contemporary writer with an interest in improving -- or, at least, riffing -- on Lorca. In the aptly titled "Another Part of the House," now in an uneven but interesting Chicago production from Teatro Vista, Cruz makes a couple of changes. Instead of telling the story mostly from the mother's perspective, she gives more ownership to the oppressed daughters (and Bernarda's similarly oppressed mother). And instead of muting the women's pain in that 1940s symbolist stuff, Cruz makes things more explicit. We feel the heaves of their sexual desires, the sting of the maternal physical abuse, the agonies caused by Bernarda's obsession with patriarchal norms. This is a provocative idea -- although there's no question that the Cruz play will mean most to people already familiar with the Lorca. And when a writer spends this much time and effort deconstructing someone else's play -- and arguing that he didn't understand his own characters -- you're inclined to think she might have been better penning her own. Cecilie D. Keenan's earnest and nicely melodic Teatro Vista production is acted with a great deal of honesty and passion -- there are especially provocative performances from Sandra Marquez and Charin Alvarez. Visually, though, this sometimes vague show is on less solid ground. Especially given the expansive Chopin Theatre stage, we never entirely get the sense that these women are locked up. Rather, folks float up and down the stage with what looks like a lot more freedom than Bernarda (Julia Neary) cared to dispense. Cruz is a smart, quirky and deeply lyrical writer, and there are pleasures to be had in seeing muted metaphors turned inside out. This is one way to bust open the canon. In this case, it's not entirely clear whose Bernarda we end up with -- and Neary doesn't seem to have her heart fully engaged in villainy" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/26/06

"Cruz re-imagining of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba is sort of like the work of Wicked author Gregory Maguire, who's made a small industry out of tackling classic tales from the point of view of another character. But where Maguire might radically reinvent Bernarda Alba, Cruz just barely tweaks it. Garcia Lorca's story remains largely the same: After the death of her second husband, conservative matron Bernarda (she of the iron fist and sharp cane) forces her five daughters into an eight-year period of mourning; her obsession with appearances and repression of her daughters desires lead inevitably to tragedy. Cruz moves the setting from Spain to Cuba, but more importantly she also moves it just across the Fantasyland border into the suburb of Magical Realismville. Her biggest change involves Bernarda's crazy mother Maria Josefa, who makes only brief appearances in the original. Here Maria Josefa drives the action, pushing granddaughter Adela to hook up with Pepe el Romano, the village hottie with whom all the sisters are obsessed; Pepe, unseen in Bernarda Alba, appears here, mute but in the flesh, an instrument controlled by the grandmother. Keenan has assembled a killer set of actors and created some real visual poetry, but Cruz's play still feels academic. The playwright keeps so much of Garcia Lorca's work verbatim, and brings so little new to it (aside from a modern ability to talk more frankly about sexuality), that we can't help but wonder, What was wrong with the classic" - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 9/28/06

"A play by an award-winning Hispanic playwright premiered in Chicago this month. It portrays a family of women dealing with the loss of their father. The Midwest premiere of Another Part of the House by award-winning playwright Migdalia Cruz and performed by the Teatro Vista ensemble members at the Chopin Theatre is a fiercely provocative play. After the death of their father, five sisters are forced into eight years of mourning by their mother, Bernarda. In the stifling heat, desires, dark secrets and jealousy escalate while their sex starved 80-year-old grandmother is in love with a mysterious and forbidden man -- a man who approaches all of the women in the play. "He's man, a lover, and he's also the person that destroys the house," said Migdalia Cruz, playwright. Teatro Vista is considered one of the leading Hispanic equity theatre companies in the Midwest, performing works of edgy Latino writers. "In my heart I feel really blessed that people would speak -- and bring life to my plays," said Sandra Marquez, Teatro Vista Actor. "If we didn't have that, most of the people in our ensemble would not have been working. Theater is a craft and you get better by working. And if you aren't getting the opportunities except to play a maid, you're not going to hone your draft," said Marquez. Another part of the house, originally a play by Lorca, turns the original inside out so that all the rooms are exposed. Cruz shows how women react when confronted with love and sex and jealously. "It's about how women give up their power to men and desire, especially when they can't be out and open about who they are and who they love," said Cruz" - Teresa Guitterez, WLS-TV 9/21/06

Migdalia Cruz

Cecilie Keenan

Julia Neary; Lily Mojekwu; Charin Alvarez; Laura Crotte; Sandra Marquez, Rachel Cerda, Tanya Saracho, Illana Faust;

Sets (by Rick Paul), lighting (Jesse Klug), costumes (Christine Pascual), sound (Mikhail Fiksel); "invited visual artist" Luis De La Torre

Tags: Theater, Rest Of The World, 2006