Lopez/Lorca Tragedy Unveils Woman Driven Mad by Tradition
by Lynne Stevens
Mythical in its makeup, “Yerma” is a study in what not to do in your romantic relationships. Melinda Lopez has adapted and translated Federico Garcia Lorca’s 30s Spanish play into a demanding, supernatural dream. It’s a shocking and suspenseful journey.
In a slow burn, Yerma (intense Regina Morones) loves her husband, Juan (earnest Caleb Cabrera). But by the end of the first scene, we know this is not a hearts and flowers love story. After their first miscarriage, Yerma’s obsession to have a child begins to wear on Juan.
As Yerma, Morones is all femininity but her animal nature gets the better of her as she engages with cousins and girlfriends about their children. She is losing self-control, giving in to social expectations, and will do anything to have a child.
Lopez adapts and translates Lorca’s 1934 Spanish verse drama to a 30s Southern California setting. The Mexican American community’s values weigh heavily on Yerma—the Spanish verb for “to lay waste.” Demands for motherhood are laying waste to Yerma.
After several miscarriages, Yerma’s women friends commiserate but cannot understand her anguish. Men only have to look at them and “boom, boom, boom,” they conceive. In those days women’s lives were defined by family. What is Yerma without a child?
Yerma resorts to magical intervention. Wearing red robes, the women circle her, chanting and gesticulating. As in Greek plays, two males enter, one in a bull’s skull mask with long horns, implying sexuality, on the other a death mask. We wait in suspense to see if the spells and gyrations delivered by the coven of witches will help Yerma conceive.
Sound Designer Sebastian Gutierrez uses musical transitions between scenes like a Greek chorus. Through the window, we see an alluring illuminated landscape of rolling green and gold hills. They live simply but Yerma’s obsession reminds us of Rosemary’s Baby.
Yerma’s childhood friend Victor (melancholy Samuel Prince) floats in, reminding us of their strong ties. Although Yerma refuses to jeopardize her marriage, in her eyes Victor stands for virile manhood.
Yerma’s “greatest desire” turns toward madness in a fairy tale concept of motherhood. While her exhausted friends complain of endless diapers and feeding, she is trapped in a state of persistent yearning.
Despite the drought, Juan cultivates their vineyard. Fed up with Yerma’s misery, Juan’s drinking turns him into an unsympathetic character. Cabrera’s subtle Juan starts in tune with his wife, but his growing remoteness feeds Yerma’s hysteria.
The terrific cast spices up Yerma’s melancholy spiral. As the sorceress Dolores, Aisha Aurora Rivera treats women’s troubles with command and elegance. As Incarnación, an older sage, Linda Amayo-Hassan perfectly incarnates a wise, funny elder, who knows what family means. She sashays around and wags her finger telling Yerma she can have her desire if she will take it.
Something changes after Yerma’s visit with the shaman. Watch for the terrible change—it’s a shocking ending.
“Yerma” —adapted and translated by Melinda Lopez, based on the play by Federico Garcia Lorca, directed by Katja Rivera, at Shotgun Players, Berkeley. Info: ShotgunPlayers.org – to June 18, 2023.
Cast: Linda Amayo-Hassan, Caleb Cabrera, Mylo Cardona, Linda Maria Girón, Regina Morones, Samuel Prince, Aisha Aurora Rivera, and Alejandra Wahl.
Banner photo: Alejandra Wahl, Linda Amayo-Hassan, Aisha Rivera, Mylo Cardona, & Linda Maria Girón. Photos: Benjamin Krantz