By George Maguire
Shotgun Players continues its “Season of Love” with a beautiful adaptation of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, adapted and translated by Melissa Lopez, and directed with graceful gusto and imagination by Katja Rivera.
Lorca, one of the 20th century’s great Spanish playwright/poets, penned in quick succession, three masterpieces: Yerma, Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, before he was executed in 1936 by a Nationalist firing squad. Lorca’s socialist political leanings and his homosexuality were antithetical to Franco’s right-wing militants.
Set in the grape vineyards of California’s San Fernando Valley in the 1930s, we enter into the lives of a Mexican-American rural family struggling to work, feed themselves and indeed procreate, hoping to keep their legacy alive as they try to climb the ladder of the American dream.
The play opens with a vivid scene of copulation between Yerma and her husband Juan. Played with brutal depth and passion by Regina Morones, Yerma is childless after ten years of marriage to Juan. Soon she announces to him that she is five weeks pregnant, only to learn that once again her “body is dry,” as she tells her friends.
Juan (played with swaggering intensity by Caleb Cabrera) has inherited a pig farm which he is desperate to turn into a fertile vineyard. The play itself is infused with scenes of what later became known as “magical realism” under such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and playwright Jose Rivera, whose realistic views of the world are altered by scenes with magical elements of dreams, hallucinations and hauntings.
This is a play about desire and what we are willing to do to manifest what we want, and indeed what we think we need for connection.
In this eight-person cast are Yerma’s four friends, who bring Yerma to a shamaka (Linda Amayo-Hassan giving a textured mystical performance of grandeur as Incarnacion) known for creating fertility in a seemingly barren woman.
Alejandra Wahl plays Maria who seems, as she says, to pass by a man and immediately become pregnant. It is a performance of strength and simultaneous fragility both aspects beautifully bifurcated in Ms. Wahl.
Regal Aisha Aurora Rivera, and ultra-chatty gossip Mylo Cardona add nuance and strength to the circle of women. In the midst of the muddle is Victor, Yerma’s childhood friend and now a sheep owner very much in love with her. The yin and yang roller coaster of emotions Yerma lives through on a day-by-day basis come to a brutal conclusion as she makes a horrifying choice at the play’s end.
Director Rivera and her movement/intimacy choreographer Raisa Donato bring all of this to the forefront in a stunning scene of sexual awakening by Yerma as she conjures a horned bare-chested beast (played with god-pan abandon by Samuel Prince) surrounded by scarf-draped women dancing and ululating in wild abandon.
Composer/sound designer Sebastian Gutierrez heightens the stage with an original score of arias, duets and quartets bringing emotional weight and beautifully choreographed movement to the play. When the emotion is too ripe for simple words, we sing and the heart explodes.
The designers have supplemented the work with Nina Ball’s set of dirt piles, ramps and steps, and a beautiful painting in the center illuminated in a lush pallette of ever-changing colors by Sara Miel Saavadra. Valarie Coble has costumed the play with specific lived-in looks of the 1930s farm life.
It’s a beautiful and haunting play given a superb production at Berkeley’s renowned Shotgun Players. Lorca’s gifts of poetry and farce work together to create tears and laughter, hallmarks of his legacy. One can only imagine what else he could have written had he not come to such a tragic end at age 38.
ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is a San Francisco based actor and director. and a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. He is a Professor Emeritus of Solano College. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Written by||Frederico Garcia Lorca.
Adapted and translated by Melinda Lopez
|Directed by||Katja Rivera|
|Producing Company||Shotgun Players|
Video On Demand
|May 20-June 25, 2023
Live streaming June 1 & 8
|Production Address||1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley CA 94705|
|Tickets||Dynamic Pricing Per Show --Call the Box Office|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review Pick?||----|