Yerma @ Park Avenue Armory

"Or is my life trying to ruin me?"


Park Avenue Armory
After Federico García Lorca
Directed by Simon Stone

April 2, 2018

Yerma has left me shaken.

I find it difficult to write this piece. A play of such magnitude deserves to be seen, not summarized, and actors such as Billie Piper merit utmost attention for their craft. The attempt of any writer to capture what's said during 1 hour and 40 minutes of the finest performance, design, sound, and direction in New York is an exercise worse than futility. "The magic of theater," describes director Simon Stone, "is in its presence, its spontaneity, in its role as a crucible for the most human and revealing performances."

And Yerma is more revealing than most.

We join an unnamed woman, "Her", in a calamitous journey towards self-destruction. We know she's a journalist and blogger, she's ambitious, she's sexy and driven and fun, and we know she wants a child. She never has before, but as her life progresses through its predictable and comfortable hoops it seems like the right thing to do at the time. Get a house, move ahead at work, have a baby. Why? She says, "Regret. Not now, but maybe later."

We eventually discover she had an abortion at age 24, and although the question is never answered we're left wondering if some medical or psychological after-effect has left her barren. Or is it because her husband doesn't really want the child? Because she's just not ready? Because "Nature makes its own decisions"? Does the reason even matter?

Obsession pulls her deeper and deeper into mania. As everyone around her seemingly gets pregnant without even trying (including her aptly named sister Mary) she rationalizes that with the "insidious, venomous slither of life" before her, "fuck it, I'll get drunk." Amen Sister, amen.

You can read about the plot and stellar acting in the New York Times and Hollywood Reporter, and even peruse gently worded critiques in The Daily Beast, but don't think any of those can prepare you for what's about to unfold on stage.

(Oh, and funnily enough, all those reviewers are men. Given the play's content this seems more unusual than ever. A short review on Theater Is Easy gives some weight to a woman's perspective, but where are my fellow 30-somethings with ticking biological clocks??)

One facet of Simon Stone's brilliant modern adaptation is its creation and affirmation of new, modern archetypes. Not only does the play's structure mirror classical Greek tragedies, but we're given characters with just enough back-story to be believable, and just enough open-ended-ness that they can be anyone.

There's the friend who sleeps around, having unprotected sex and using the morning after pill as birth control. "I have every right to destroy my uterus," she explains, and, let's be honest, we all know that person. Then there's the mother: cold, un-comforting. A woman who wanted to kill herself when she became pregnant. I already mentioned the sister, Mary, who's symbolic name becomes a point of contention following her almost miraculous conception.

I can feel this play in my bones, my heart, my uterus. In fact, I recently had a conversation that eerily mirrors the final, climactic scene. As the car crash of her life teeters at cliff's edge, marriage in shambles, dress on backwards, her husband shouts, "You let the unknown child between us." The absence of something divided them, and I'm reliving an argument with a recent lover about the exact same thing. He didn't want children, so I didn't want him.

This must be why the play pierced me so profoundly. Not only the performances and the set, though stunning, but the entirety of this woman's experience. Because women's sexuality is so rarely portrayed with honesty on stage or screen, I soak up what's given with thirsty abandon. I reveled hearing about Her's struggle with infertility, because I've truly never heard the story before. There's no example to draw on if it happens to me.

I can't write well about this piece, it's still too close to my skin. But it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Image courtesy Playbill website

By Simon Stone
After Federico Garcia Lorca

Maureen Beattie (Helen)
Brendan Cowell (John)
John MacMillan (Victor)
Billie Piper (Her)
Charlotte Randle (Mary)
Thalissa Teixeira (Des)

Simon Stone (Director)
Lizzie Clachan (Set Designer)
Alice Babidge (Costume Designer)
James Farncombe (Lighting Designer)
Stefan Gregory (Music and Sound Designer)
Jack Henry James (Video Designer)
Julia Horan CDG (Casting)
Kate Hewitt (Associate Director)
Nicki Brown (Associate Lighting Designer)
Peter Rice (Associate Sound DEsigner)
Pippa Meyer (Company Stage Manager)
Sophie Rubenstein (Deputy Stage Manager)
Cynthia Cahill (Stage Manager)
Heather Cryan (Assistant Stage Manager)
Ella Saunders (Assistant Stage Manager)
Jim Leaver (Production Manager)

A Park Avenue Armory and Young Vic Production

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