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Missing motherhood

A new adaptation of ‘Yerma’ hits the Huntington stage

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Missing motherhood
Nadine Malouf as Yerma. PHOTO: NILE HAWVER

Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca wrote “Yerma” in 1934 about a woman desperate to start a family. Through June 30, the Huntington Theatre Company debuts an updated version of the play, translated and adapted for the contemporary audience by Huntington Playwright-in-Residence Melinda Lopez.

“Yerma” follows the eponymous title character in her quest to conceive a child despite biological challenges. “I have loved the plays of Lorca for many years,” says Lopez. “And this play in particular is underrepresented in the U.S.” To make the show more relatable to American audiences, Lopez has updated the text to incorporate contemporary conception aids and colloquial language used in the modern world, without diminishing the poetry of Lorca’s original text.

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The production also utilizes music to root the show in Spanish culture and to articulate moods and themes that can’t be expressed in words. The sound weaves in and out of the story organically, as though part of the set. According to Lopez, the rehearsal process was very collaborative, with text, music and physicality all designed together to creative a cohesive expression.

Nadine Malouf, who plays Yerma, says the domestic play, which may seem antiquated, is still very relevant to modern life. “I think we’re still questioning women’s roles in society and what they can do,” says Malouf. “We’re having debates about women’s bodies and what they can and can’t do, and how much a woman is worth or how much the work she does is worth.” Yerma isn’t just seeking a child and a family, but a purpose. It is as much a search for identity as it is for a domestic life.

The cast and crew are predominantly people of color. Female creative leads guide the narrative, with Lopez as the adapter and translator, Mella Bensussen directing and Malouf in the role of Yerma. Lopez says the play has a particular relevancy to communities of color.  “Especially in our communities, questions of legacy, questions of choice, that’s very strong,” she says.

Lopez, who has proven her talents time and again on the Huntington stage, brings the perspective of a woman and a mother to a play that had almost exclusively been translated by men prior to this production. “When you look at a lot of the translations of contemporary classics, most of them are by men. And very few are by people of color,” says Lopez. “My attention has been very specific to uplifting the women’s experiences in the play.”

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