A greedy woman momentarily upsets the apple cart of adult entertainment in Ronnie Larsen’s wretched sex comedy Making Porn, while over in La Casa de Bernarda Alba it is feminine rebellion that threatens to crack the veneer of decorum in a household seething with discontent.
No men appear in Bernarda Alba, the final play from Federico García Lorca, but their influence pervades it: Their rules, their notions of propriety, their whims dictate the limits of possibility for the women who inhabit the house of the title character, a recent widow of some station in a small Spanish town.
Ironically enough, it’s a woman who enforces these masculine codes: Bound by a rigid sense of honor and tradition, bent on keeping up appearances at all costs, Alba tyrannizes her five daughters and keeps her mad mother locked up at the back of the house. Ignoring warnings from a (perhaps stereotypically) wise servant, she imposes eight years of cloistered mourning, ending even the limited contact her daughters have had with the world outside. Angustias, the eldest, is allowed a strictly supervised courtship with the town hunk, whose interest is plainly limited to her dowry. But the youngest daughter, and perhaps another, harbor their own ideas about love and dream of escape (though their notion of “escape” involves at best trading in their mother’s authority for a husband’s). Alba’s ruthless attempts to quash dissent and maintain a semblance of propriety virtually guarantee tragedy for at least one of her rebellious brood.
Shrinkwrapped types like to natter on about the play’s evocation of Jungian mother-daughter relationship archetypes and the “hermaphroditic matriarchy” Alba embodies, so it’s oddly interesting, if a little surreal, that Hugo Medrano plays the title role in Gala’s production. His Bernarda is vividly drawn, a desiccated stick figure draped in widow’s weeds and leaning heavily on the cane that symbolizes her authoritarian rule. If the English-speaking audience doesn’t quite get the sense of emotional complexity one might want in the roleAlba is spiteful, arrogant, hypocritical, despised by servants and feared by her children, but she must also be a tragic and even a pitiable figure, not an inhuman oneit may be that the nuances of characterization are literally lost in translation. (As sometimes happens at Gala, the simultaneous English interpretation, delivered via radio headset, is read with a mortifying gracelessness and often seems more intrusive than illuminating.)
Of the daughters, Carmen Parejo stands out as Martírio, the misshapen consumptive whose bitter, secret yearning further poisons the stifling air in the Alba household; Martírio is like Passion’s Fosca reduced to supporting-role status, and Parejo broods over the part with convincing relish. Excellent, too, is Marta Ortúzar as Poncia, the housekeeper who knows better than Bernarda what danger lies in allowing desire to fester and darken.
Tony Cisek’s set is well designed but poorly executed: Towering off-white backdrops suggest both the stucco walls of the Alba prison and the sweltering heat that its inhabitants complain endlessly of, but doors balk at sliding and windows close indifferently. Lighting designer Ayun Fedorcha looks to echo the script’s poetic symbolism with washes of color and projected imagesa cross, a rosebut the result is haphazardly effective at best.
With the possible exception of the three actors already named, none of the cast seems interested in understatement, which means this production is marked primarily by a stridency that gets old quickly. Director Abel López milks Bernarda Alba for its melodrama, but the complex relationship dynamics that make this one of García Lorca’s remarkable achievements go unexplored here.
It’s tempting to say Making Porn begins with a bang and ends with a whimper, but that would be giving this bit of fluff too much credit. There are raunchy laughs aplenty in the first act, which finds a gay skin-flick producer (Ken Stewart) trading his sleazebag director lover (Michael Lopez) for a dewy-eyed young discovery (Kurt Young) with a winning smile and a boundless appetite for boink. Adding measurably to the fun are a jaded porn veteran (David Thompson, nelly as the day is long) and a straight hunk (Eric Jirak) who dreams of Hamlet but meanwhile makes ends meet bywell, by making ends meet.
The chuckles keep coming as long as the banter stays light and the action stays in the studio, but writer/director Ronnie Larsen insists on trying to make a Statement, and the evening goes rapidly downhill. The inept second act, in which filmmakers and stars alike cope with the advent of AIDS and the straight man’s wife turns weaselly opportunist, is a shallow, unfocused, irritatingly sanctimonious waste of paper, not to mention patrons’ time. Joe Eszterhas’ Showgirls, that howlingly misguided cinematic attempt to infuse jiggle with emotional resonance, comes to mind.
The only intriguing thing about the D.C. version of Making Porn (productions have spread like STDs from Chicago to New York and cities around the nation) is that Thompson and Young, the two actual porn actors in the cast, make the biggest impression. Not that they create believably human characters, mind youthat seems to be beyond the scope of Larsen’s ambition. But they are kinda likable, and they’re refreshingly willing to make fun of their day jobs. Which, by the way, they and all their colleagues should keep.CP