June 27, 2019

in Plays

Adapted and translated by Melinda Lopez
Based on the play Yerma (1934) by Federico García Lorca

Directed by Melia Bensussen

Huntington Theatre Company
Boston Center for the Arts
South End, Boston
May 31 – June 30, 2019

With Christian Barillas (Juan), Marianna Bassham (Maria), Alma Cuervo (Incarnacion), Evelyn Howe (Marta), Alexandra Illescas( Veronica, Rosa Maria, Nadine Malouf (Yerma), Melinda Lopez (Dolores), Ernie Pruneda (Victor)

Musicians: Janito Pascual (Guitar), Fabio Pirozzolo (Percussion)

Nadine Malouf as Yerma in 'Yerma'

Nadine Malouf as Yerma
in “Yerma”
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

A drama about marriage, procreation, community, temptation, jealousy, expectation and disappointment.

Yerma (Nadine Malouf) has been married to Juan (Christian Barillas) and hopes for a child – her friends and neighbors all seem to have them. As time goes on, Juan becomes more intense and distant and Yerma’s childhood neighbor Victor (Ernie Pruneda) provides an obvious source of interest. What looks like a return of passion and connection in her marriage provides hope, but the network of expectations and disappointments is thick and complicated.

The plot of this drama is simple, so the weight of it relies on a sense of the psychological build-up in the central characters and the inevitable actions to which those lead.

For some reason, either due to the liabilities of the original, the nature of the translation, or the choices of the production itself, I never felt this intensity. Nor did I get a feeling of the plight of Yerma and her husband. Throughout the effects seemed more melodramatic than dramatic; I simply didn’t feel what I expected to be the core intensity of the work.

I couldn’t comment on Melinda Lopez’ translation, though the dialogue wound up sounding artificial and wooden. At times, instead of seeing a play by García Lorca, I thought I was seeing one by Harold Pinter. Each of the lines seemed, at those times, enclosed by a kind of spatial vacancy that gave a feeling of alienation rather than by a poignant and visceral intensity.

The abundance of the female retinue that accompanied Yerma also came off seeming too much plentiful in numbers and not rich enough in character or persuasiveness to justify the population onstage. Clearly, the play is about social pressure and expectation but the group of female characters surrounding Yerma seemed more disjointed than serving to provide a coherent and powerful sense of overriding psychological domination. Nonetheless, some indivdidual performances, like that offered by the excellent actress Marianna Bassham as Maria, shone through.

The music, however, is terrific. Provided by the excellent percussionist Fabio Pirozzolo and guitarist Juanito Pascual, that background was strong and effective throughout. As well, singing by the female members of the cast was exceptionally well done. I’m not sure how much of the music was intended by García Lorca, but it seemed to contribute to this production significantly.

Melinda Lopez is a talented playwright and performer and has contributed much to Boston stages over the past decades. I first saw her one-woman show Mala at ArtsEmerson a couple of years ago and was impressed by the honesty, forthrightness and dramatic richness of the writing, and by the vividness of Lopez’ performance. In this production of Yerma, or at least in the performance I saw, though there are heartfelt, and some notable, moments, something seemed not to quite measure up to that level of writing and execution.

– BADMan

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