Spanish writer Federico García Lorca, used the term ‘duende’ to describe an elusive quality of art, defined by power, authenticity, and emotional connection. According to tradition, duende is normally created in performed arts, but only when there is some kind of suffering represented in the work. If he saw it today, Lorca may not laud over Cooperativa Ar/Tv Trans’ production of his classic play, ‘LaCasadeBernardaAlba’, as the most successful ever, but he would probably appreciate the presence of duende throughout, most radiant in scenes of conflict and painful revelation.
The Cooperativa Ar/Tv Trans perform LaCasadeBernardaAlba (photo: Bodhi Stanberry)
Bringing together one of the most traditional Hispanic plays ever written and Argentina’s first cooperative transsexual theatre company, this production is politically charged and overflowing with important, revealing background.
Taking place in the Hotel Bauen, the play is put on by the Cooperativa Ar/Tv Trans Theatre Company. In the Bauen’s intimate space, the small cast of 12 create a claustrophobic and intense atmosphere throughout the play’s short running time. This is aided by sparse staging involving little but an appropriately austere kitchen table. The mood amplifies the tensions that mount gradually in the family house of BernardaAlba, thematriarch ruling over her five daughters with an unbending will.
Although it is important not to let the social and authorial context of a production determine its success, it is impossible to ignore -and rightly so- in this vibrant and effective drama. The Cooperativa Ar/Tv Trans company originated in the last decade to give a voice to a minority who often go unheard in mainstream media and literature. The company has expressed its dissatisfaction with the representation of the trans community in literature, but Daniela Ruiz, director of ‘La CasadeBernardaAlba’, revealed the careful choice of play was part of the broader goal of communicating the experience of being trans through theatre.
LaCasadeBernardaAlba at Hotel Bauen (photo: Bodhi Stanberry)
“As all the characters in the play are women, we felt like it was a suitable platform to discuss issues we identify with,” said Ruiz. “Themes of identity and repression are explored in the work; there’s a strong parallel between the women in the play beingdenied their femininity and sexuality and the way the trans community today are often treated.” Indeed, ‘LaCasa de BernardaAlba’ deals with the situation of women at the start ofthe 20th century and is often held up as a defence of women’ rights.
A better established theatre company might put on a more polished production, this being far from flawless. The odd botched or unconvincing line was apparent but not often a distraction from the scene, and the production was just fresh enough to remain engaging throughout. It was also distinctly Argentine: there is a contemporary rioplatense interpretation of the 1920s Spanish spoken inthe play, even occasionally slippinginto lunfardo, a slang dialect originating in Buenos Aires. Whatthe production lacks in terms of experience, it makes up for in soul and a sense of realism.