REVIEW: Tyranny Rules in Oakland University’s ‘The House of Bernarda Alba’

You are probably familiar with the saying (or the country song by Tracy Byrd), ‘If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.’ And make no mistake, Bernarda Alba (Stefanie Sambrano) is one unhappy woman.

The House of Bernarda Alba is set in 1936 in a small Spanish mountain town, and opens on the day Bernarda is dealing with her second husband’s funeral. Mourning his loss would explain Bernarda’s dour mood, but we quickly learn she also has contempt for her village and the people in it. However, if she moves to another village, she loses her standing as a prominent figure and she wouldn’t be as wealthy. So, since misery loves company, Bernarda aims her anger at her five daughters by imposing an eight-year mourning period, during which time they are forbidden to leave the house. Angustias (Marissa Pattullo) is the oldest and Bernarda’s only daughter from her first marriage; Magdalena (Lily Talevski) is bitter, but realistic when it comes to the limitations faced by women in their society; Amelia (Jordan Taylor) comes across as eager to please, especially with Bernarda; Martirio (Sarah Lautner) is plagued by depression and seemingly unaware that Bernarda thwarted her chance at love; and Adela (Gabrielle Minchella) is the free-spirited baby of the family not afraid to speak her mind and follow her passion.

Performed in the round, the stage represents the claustrophobia the daughters feel and cannot escape. Everything they so desperately want—love and freedom—is frustratingly just beyond their grasp. The manifestation of their desires is a young man from the village named Pepe el Romano. While he has managed to capture each daughter’s attention, Angustias has the only dowry, and is therefore deemed by Bernarda as the daughter he should marry even though she is old (39), sickly, and unattractive. This does not sit well with the other sisters and the tension between them builds slowly like a simmering pot left unattended on the stove. Bernarda doesn’t seem to notice, or if she does, could really care less, “I insist you keep up appearances and keep peace in this family,” is her mantra. But nothing escapes the watchful eye of La Poncia (Ayanna Greene) the head maid. She tries to warn Bernarda, “In every room a storm is brewing.” But Bernarda is in control and dismisses the warning as jealous gossip.

Under the direction of Professor Karen Sheridan, the all-female cast, explores the complex consequences of what happens when an authority figure imposes their feelings on others. And in a time when women feel marginalized and silenced, The House of Bernarda Alba serves a poignant reminder of what can happen when cries for help are ignored and others remain silent and disengaged.

Born in 1898 in Fuente Vaqueros, Spain, Federico García Lorca was a Spanish poet and playwright. In 1936 he finished La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba). Later that year he was killed during the Spanish Civil war. He was 38.

This play runs approximately an hour and a half without intermission.

Remaining performance are:
Thursday, November 17    8 p.m.
Friday, November 18         10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 19     8 p.m.
Sunday, November 20       2 p.m.

There will be a talkback with the designers and technicians after the November 17 show and the November 19 show will be shadow-signed for the Deaf by Synergy on Stage. Tickets are $15 general and $8 for students and everyone at the 10 a.m. matinee on Friday, November 18 and they can be purchased online without service fees at or by phone at (800) 585-3737. Tickets can also be purchased at the Varner Box Office on Oakland University’s campus.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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