Wednesday, June 30, 2021

607. YERMA. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Nuria Espert (left), Jose Luis Pellicena. 
YERMA [Dramatic Revival/Spanish Language] A: Federico Garcia Lorca; D: Victor Garcia; S/C: Victor Garcia, Fabian Puigserver; L: Polo Villasenor; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music ad Nino T. Karlweis in the Nuria Exert Company Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music (OB); 10/17/72-10/29/72 (16)

Victor Garcia, a renowned Spanish director, achieved a universally acclaimed masterpiece of theatrical innovation in this Spanish-language production of Lorca’s tragedy starring Nuria Espert of the Madrid company that bore her name. It came to BAM following its great success with Madrid and London critics. Simultaneous translations were available with rented headsets.

Lorca’s poetic study of a barren village woman and her frustration at being unable to bear her husband children, normally staged in a realistically designed setting, was here put forth on a giant trampoline that could, by the attachment of ropes to eyelets by actor-stagehands, be converted at need into a myriad of highly imaginative locales. It was as much an actor as anyone in the play as it took shape as a cave, a floor, a wall, a female breast, hills, the sky, a plain, and so forth. The ritualistically choreographic staging, employing actors both on the trampoline and on platforms running around and beneath the canvas, established visual metaphors that brilliantly suggested the internal images Garcia discerned in Lorca’s people and situations.

Nothing about the staging was literal or illusionistic—all the techniques were exposed, not hidden—yet the emotional and intellectual impact of the production had an overwhelming effect, even on those with no Spanish. Striking sensuality was evident in several scenes, including those employing nudity and sexual embraces, to underline the longing of the central figure after whom the play is named (Yerma means “barren”).

Henry Hewes said the drama’s story “now emerges not only as the tragedy of a wife doomed to accept her marriage to a man who cannot and does not wish to make her pregnant, but also as a poetic and surrealistic metaphor of the needs and frustration of the female condition.” Clive Barnes saw the conception as on a level with Greek tragedy in the intensity of its power. Harold Clurman considered this Yerma “one of the outstanding successes in the effort during the last decade to enlarge the scope of the contemporary theatre.” A surprising factor was that Garcia, apparently, had accomplished his goals without “distortion of the text.”

Garcia and Fabian Puigserver won a Drama Desk Award for their scenic design.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on by clicking here. 

Next up: You Never Know.