Through Oct. 4
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Federico García Lorca didn’t stand a chance. When Franco’s fascist troops rose to power during the Spanish Civil War, there was no place for a freethinking, gay dramatist — internationally acclaimed and critical of the opposition — in their nationalist plan. So in August of 1936, one of Franco’s death squads abducted Lorca and shot him to death. He was 38.
And though Lorca’s body was never recovered, his works endure. His most important plays are tragedies featuring strong and complex women: “Blood Wedding” (1933), “Yerma” (1934) and “The House of Bernarda Alba” (1936). All set in the Spanish countryside, they’re collectively dubbed Lorca’s rural trilogy.
And now Gala Hispanic Theatre mounts a searing, modern-feeling “Yerma” (translates as “Barren”) helmed by out Spanish director José Luis Arellano García. The title character longs for a baby but can’t conceive. She blames her husband whom she rightly assumes doesn’t want children, a desire that’s anathema to both her and the surrounding villagers: “A woman from the country who doesn’t bear children is as useless as a handful of thorns — even sinful!”
Director García makes us feel Yerma’s unrelenting pain. Even during intermission, a miserable family dinner plays out on stage. Yerma is collapsed at the kitchen table while her husband and his two shrouded sisters eat in silence except for the clanging of metal spoons against ceramic bowls. It’s a stylized production that somehow never crosses over to melodrama.
The script and set add to the intensity. In his world premier adaptation of Lorca’s luminously poetic text, Fernando J. Lopez, a Spanish writer who is gay, effectively pares a larger cast down to its five essential characters (not counting the sisters who appear briefly): Yerma; her husband, Juan; Victor, a lusty shepherd; new mother Maria; and Dolores, an amalgam older woman character.
Scenic designer Sylvia de Marta serves up a stark set of corrugated metal and stainless steel. A swathe of dirt (in which the actors sometimes flail and roll) borders the front of the stage. The set is lit with alternating soft and harsh fluorescent lighting. The actors are costumed in contemporary, very casual summer clothes.
Mabel del Pozo’s Yerma is passionate, definitely earthy, and generally miserable. Though not exactly clawing, her hands are never far from her loins. Yerma wants a baby badly. She communes with the unborn son she desires, sometimes speaking aloud to him. She believes his addition to the household would fix her otherwise unhappy life.
There are two men in Yerma’s life — Juan (played by out actor Eric Robledo) the cold husband that her father chose for her. By day he works the land and at night counts his money. Yerma is too much for Juan. He’d prefer a contented wife who remained quietly in the home and didn’t nag him about lovemaking and ways to conceive.
Then there is Victor (Iker Lastra), a family friend with whom Yerma steals charged but chaste moments.
The players are well cast. With a dancer’s poise, Natalia Miranda-Guzmán assays Yerma’s friend Maria, an ambivalent young mother who so easily conceived but was never eager to start a family. A sad moment comes when Yerma poignantly and enviously notes that Maria’s new baby has his mother’s eyes. And Dolores, a freewheeling mother many times over is played by Luz Nicolás who unbeknownst to last Friday’s audience was performing on a newly broken foot.
“Yerma” is performed in Spanish with gracefully translated, easy-to-read English surtitles.