Four Major Plays
By: Federico Garcia Lorca
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
In his four last plays (Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, Dona Rosita the Spinster) Federico Garcia Lorca offered his disturbed and disturbing personal vision to Spanish audiences of the 1930s—unready, as he thought them, for the sexual frankness and surreal expression of his more experimental work. The authentic sense of danger of Lorca’s theatre is finely conveyed here in John Edmunds’s fluent and rhythmic new translations that lend themselves admirably to performance.
I read this book back in 2012 but I never wrote a review about it; suffice to say I really enjoyed it then (as well as Lorca being my favourite poet and all <333). I decided to revisit it again this year as I've been reading a lot of plays lately. I’m going to break my review down by play:
This is the play that I actually remember the most from in this collection, which makes sense I guess as there’s a lot of fantastic imagery here and there’s a lot of themes running in this story. On the one hand, there’s the notion of family tragedy with the mother and her last son, the bridesgroom: she’s always telling him to be careful as blood runs in all of the men of their family but as a young man he just laughs off her concerns. On the other hand, there’s the element of sexual attraction that’s hard to ignore and shake off; the bride knows she should be happy with the bridesgroom, that he’s the guy you want to settle down with, and yet she can’t quite resist her former love, Leonardo (honestly I don’t know what’s so great about Leonardo, he’s passionate but he’s also a brute). They both know that it’s no good to reconnect, but they can’t help it, it’s in their blood.
Thus there’s the sense of inevitability with the tragedy, no?
Ugh, I felt so sorry for Yerma all throughout: she just wanted a child, to feel useful and needed and her husband just didn’t get it at all. It doesn’t help that she’s surrounded by young women with newborns and everything and in the end even the pagan woman turned her back on her. Of course Yerma’s going to end up bitter as she’s aware that her life has pretty much withered away with the years. She’s also left alone much of the time, which doesn’t help matters; there’s no point being much of a housewife if her husband’s rarely at home. And yet Juan insists that she stays home, which is frustrating as we know what her home life is like. Juan was a very frustrating character, he’s pretty lifeless and even when he does finally say his thoughts, I felt no sympathy for his character.
Overall, there’s a major theme/issue of communication running in this play, though it’s clear that it’s too late to mend bridges once they finally do open up.
The House of Bernarda Alba
I think this was probably the most scathing of the plays collected here. Bernarda Alba is such a tyrant, it’s no wonder her daughters are just as stir-crazy and vicious and the way they are. Omg, she was the worst, she didn’t seem to care about her daughter or about her recently deceased husband or about the people around her who cares about what happens to them; she seemed to only care about appearances, about hierarchy, and being followed. It’s strange that for a woman as rigid to social order and custom as Bernarda Alba, she didn’t seem as concerned to marry off her daughters sooner, which makes me wonder if she just likes being in control the way she does or what. It’s not like she’s imparting anything else to her daughters.
The role of women in society and perceptions of women play a major role in this story (of chastity and unbecoming behaviour). Her five daughters respond to their mother’s tyranny in different ways, in particular Adela, Martirio, and Angustias. Their relationship reminds me of Downton Abbey‘s Mary and Edith Crawley; they share the same blood, but otherwise they don’t really like each other.
Like the previous two plays, this play ends with a tragedy, which in this case was really sad because it seemed like the only option for escape in this case.
Dona Rosita the Spinster
I personally found this play to be the weakest, at least at first; Lorca’s poeticism is more apparent here, but it took a while for me to get into the story and what Rosita was all about. The conflict seemed a lot more internal but it was hard to really focus in on it with all of the poeticism and the other characters roaming about. But once I figured out Rosita and the conflict within her character–at first I thought there was a lack of resoluteness in her, but then I realised part of it stemmed from her daydreamer state coupled with the lack of anything happening around her–I realised that this play is probably the saddest of the four in that time is a major antagonist here for what happens to Rosita.
It was great revisiting Lorca’s plays. It’s amazing how sensual and frank his plays are, addressing very serious women’s issues but also their relationships with men and about themselves and their place in society. I think “The House of Bernarda Alba” and “Yerma” are probably the most visceral and scathing of the lot, but “The Blood Wedding” definitely imprints itself into memory. And despite of the meandering first Act, “Dona Rosita” was very, very sad. I cannot recommend his works enough–his plays, his poetry–they are just wonderful to read.