Fourth Wall Productions, at Wright College.

Most Chicago theater artists don’t study their own traditions, much less anyone else’s, imagining that a bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college or a heavy dose of “commitment” entitles them to charge admission to the wholesale butchering of great works of world theater. So it’s no surprise that Fourth Wall’s production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s masterpiece The House of Bernarda Alba–steeped in the rich tradition of Spanish poetic drama–is as flat and uninspired as our midwestern landscape. The play focuses on the impact tradition has on women in rural Spain, personified in the title character’s tyranny over her five daughters. Despite Lorca’s rich, lyric symbolism and operatic passions, director Stephen A. Donart conceives the play as pure psychological realism; he spends two hours forcing Lorca’s poetic dialogue into ordinary conversation, utterly disregarding the rhythms of the language as well as its suggestive power. As a result the production proceeds at a stumbling pace, the actors left to flounder awkwardly. Lorca’s crushing of human souls is made to seem a petulant sorority party.

Fourth Wall’s production is beautifully designed, however, by Carl Ulaszek: overlapping lattices envelop the stage as if it were caught in an enormous trap. And Donart’s highly formal staging gives the evening some semblance of ritualistic intensity. But no amount of stagecraft can compensate for the complete misunderstanding of Lorca’s artistry. (Another production of the play by TinFish is even worse, only a half step above the level of a high school assembly. Instead of poetic tragedy, we end up with two season finales of Sisters.)