“Yerma” presents disaster of a woman‘s obsession with motherhood

By Lucy Komisar

Federico Garc­a Lorca was a poet and playwright in Spain in the 1920s and 30s. In 1934 he wrote “Yerma,” about a peasant woman who is obsessed with the desire to have a child. Her husband is a farmer, but she has nothing in life but to be a mother. Lorca was gay. Don‘t know how that affected his attitude toward women who defined themselves only by what they could do with a uterus. Or if he used the story as a critique of women he viewed as crazed baby-making machines. The lady gets no sympathy.

Billie Piper as Her, Brendan Cowell as John, photo Stephanie Berger.

Simon Stone takes the story almost a hundred years later, but when the woman is an editor for lifestyle and culture on social media in London, it makes a lot less sense. Unless you keep that same “Mother Earth/Womb” attitude toward women. And suggests that they put men in danger.

If Yerma in rural Spain had nothing else she could be but a mother, “Her” (Billie Piper doesn‘t even have a name, which is another symbolism) runs a blog and a business, and her desire for the child she can‘t have seems more than neurotic. As is pointed out, there is adoption. Piper is terrific as the sultry smart/brainless woman.

Her businessman husband John (Brendan Cowell, who does have a name) starts out amorous enough to produce a child, but becomes rather long-suffering, and you don‘t begrudge him long business trips. Cowell is okay as John, but I just can‘t believe this guy would put up with this. He supposedly loves her or “Her,” but that doesn‘t come across. Unless he is besotted. He seems mostly perplexed and fatigued.

Billie Piper as Her, Charlotte Randle
as Mary her sister, photo Stephanie Berger.

The play, directed by Stone inside a large glass box designed by Lizzie Clachan, at first (symbolically?) barren and then with a modern apartment‘s leather and steel chairs and black stone marble bar, makes you begin to think of an up-to-date insane asylum, with a very nutty often screechy “Her” trying the patience of her sister Mary (Charlotte Randle), who appears serially pregnant.

At 35, “Her” accuses her mother Helen (Maureen Beattie), admittedly rather cold, of not holding her as an infant. The story bumps down further into bizarre sitcom.

The wedding party, photo Stephanie Berger.

Sometimes, it gets a lot cruder, consider “thumb sex in the bum.” I‘d rather not.

A lively drunken marriage party has “Her” and John rolling on a dirt floor. In the rain.

Near the finish, “Her” and John start arguing, is the problem her eggs or his sperm. They‘ve spent about 60,000 pounds trying to make this kid happen. It doesn‘t end well. Better she had gone to a shrink. Or on a Caribbean vacation.

Brendan Cowell as John, Billie Piper
as Her, photo Stephanie Berger.

Maybe in the 1930s when rural women in Spain did not have many alternatives, this play made more sense. It is utterly absurd today. Moral, “Her” should get her mind off her womb. This is a very anti-feminist play.

Yerma.” By Federico Garc­a Lorca, adapted and directed by Simon Stone. Young Vic production at Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue & 67th Street, New York City. tkts. (212) 933-5812. Opened March 27, 2018, closes April 21, 2018. 4/8/2018.


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