‘Yerma’ will display diversity, womanhood and unorthodox theatre

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - 10:41am

“Can we be careful of those bells on the floor there?” shouted Malcolm Tulip, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre & Drama and director of “Yerma,” in the middle of my interview. His voice reverberated through the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, bouncing off the historic walls with intensity. A student on stage, unfazed, snatched up the golden bundle immediately before turning back to the scene. A Thursday night rehearsal of “Yerma” was in full swing, and gloriously so.

This coming weekend, the Department of Theatre and Drama will present “Yerma,” a story of a young woman struggling to conceive in a small village in rural Spain. “Yerma” was originally written by beloved Spanish poet and playwright Frederico García Lorca in 1934, two years before he was executed in the Spanish Civil War of 1936. This performance of “Yerma,” a heartfelt tragedy that questions womanhood, was translated by Jo Clifford, an openly transgender playwright who’s achieved acclaim in the London theatre scene.

“There will be nothing that’s naturalistic in the piece. Yet, the idea of the piece is still to get to something essentially human,” Tulip said. 

He considers “Yerma” to be a blend between traditional theatre and out-of-the-box thinking, preferring to add his own unique flair to conventional productions.

Tulip also prefers to think of “Yerma” using Lorca’s description: “a tragical poem in six paintings.” Looking out at the rehearsal stage that Thursday night, bustling with a flurry of students, I began to see what Tulip meant. Art forms are interchangeable and fluid — who’s to say a poem can’t also be a play, as well as a painting? Paintings, while static, can convey facial expressions and gestures as acutely as a moving body of art can.

Diversity is crucial to the identity of “Yerma.” The cast is composed of 14 women and only three men, a rare scripting in classical theatre. Many of the cast are native Spanish speakers and all music is composed and performed by students. 

“It was important to have a different array of bodies on the stage that are capable and able to do different things,” said Javier Soriano, a sophomore Theatre Performance Acting major playing the shepherd and mailman.

Mallory Avnet, a senior in the BFA acting program, knew she wanted to play Yerma the moment she saw Simone Stone’s production broadcast by National Theater Live, starring Billie Piper as Yerma. 

“I remember seeing it and thinking, I have to. I have to do that,” Avnet said. “The role is so complex, complicated, gritty and messy. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of roles that encompass that for women in theatre.”

“I think everyone’s perspective on Yerma is ever changing, but it’s always very judgmental,” Soriano said. 

The same can be said for women all over the world, a gender frequently slandered for being too proactive or assertive. Every woman can understand the trepidation with which Yerma encounters the world, even if Yerma as a character seems unhinged at times. 

“I resonate with her so strangely. This show has brought up things for me that I wasn’t expecting,” Avnet said.

As all good works of art are, “Yerma” is still relevant to our times even though it was written nearly a century ago. 

“The creative voice is critical and subversive. We’re in that world now. Especially post-impeachment,” Tulip said. 

The most recent budget proposal for 2021, released by the Trump administration weeks ago, proposes cutting the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities completely.

Lorca wrote “Yerma” in the wake of the Spanish Civil War against fascism. Years later, we’re still struggling with the same balance of power. Liberal arts have a reputation of challenging existing, oppressive powers, and “Yerma” is no exception.

“Yerma” isn’t a flashy, eye-catching play or musical. But often times, the best theatre isn’t. The cast is confident that “Yerma” will touch everyone in some way, minute or grand, when they leave the Mendelssohn.

“Yerma” will take place Thursday Feb. 20 @ 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday Feb. 21 & 22 @ 8 pm, and Sunday Feb. 23 @ 2 pm at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. $30 and $24 General Seating, $13 with student ID