Williamstheatre’s Yerma relishes the beauty of Lorca’s language

Barren women have been popular main characters for theater productions in the recent past: last winter, Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo, a heartbreakingly black comedy, and this week Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, which is just heartbreaking. Yet even if Williams only produced plays about the sufferings of childless women, I now am certain that as long Lorca had written them I would not miss one performance.

Williamstheatre’s rich production, which opens on the MainStage this Thursday, Oct. 25, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 27, with performances at 8 p.m. all three nights, has at its heart an uncomplicated story.

In turn-of-the-century Spain, a young woman cannot conceive, experiences major troubles in her relationships with men and struggles to cope with those problems as a woman in a highly traditional society. What makes Yerma so remarkable, however, is the breathtaking poetry with which Lorca conveys the intense suffering and passion of his characters and which the play retains even in its translation from Spanish. The principle actors in this production — Genevieve Sparling ’04 as Yerma, Benjamin Kapnik ’05 as Juan and Alex Lees ’03 as Victor — certainly do justice to this beautiful language. They revel in each word and allow its weight to fall heavily on the audience and on themselves.

Yet under the guidance of Shauna Kantor, a visiting director with much experience in the New York and London theater scene, the production does not rely wholly on Lorca’s poetry. While not obscuring the beauty of Lorca’s words themselves, her conception of Yerma emphasizes the music and rhythm inherent in Lorca’s text. She has incorporated into the show a great deal of guitar and percussion-based music, composed especially for this production by professional musicians or developed by the performers’ own improvisations.

Kantor’s directorial trademark, however, seems to be her use of what she calls “voice work.” As she explains it, voice work involves the performers’ own cooperative creation of expressive songs and sounds which “add another level” to the production and towards which “the audience reacts on a visceral level.” From what I have seen of the show, this technique functions just as it is supposed to: it feeds the actors’ motivations and certainly enriches the performance.

If all of these praises still aren’t enough to draw everyone on campus to one (or more!) of these performances, the highly innovative set should be. It is huge, elaborate, versatile – in short, like the production itself, it should not be missed.

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