Theatre 13 is independent theatre company in the south-east of Paris just down from Place de Bastille. Theatre 13’s production of Lorca’s Yerma is rough and full of powerful emotion. It illuminates the plight and the pain of many of the women who lived in the Spanish countryside in the 1930s.
The play follows the desperate life of newly wed Yerma (Audrey Bonnet) who receives no passion from her husband, Jean (Daniel San Pedro who also directed this piece). All he is capable of offering is the comfort of a roof over their heads and the prospect of late night conversation after he returns from a hard day’s work on the fields. In fact he is very immersed in this work and he is very close to his companion out on the fields, Victor. Victor is a charming, good looking and strapping individual. There is far more spark between these two men than between the married couple.
Yerma seeks help from Victor, she was once very fond of him, and she laments that she did not pursue a relationship with him instead of Jean but this is pretty much left unsaid and is just carefully intimated by the actors. Bonnet depicts Yerma’s barren and sorrowful existence beautifully. Her diction is perfect and during the dénouement of the play, her repetition of the word la flétrissement (wilting) conveyed to the audience all the anguish that had built up over the years of aloneness from the pit of her stomach. Yerma had to contend with the backbiting of the other women in the village. Her life is under scrutiny as she has not fulfilled the only role a women of that time and place had to undertake.
Bonnet’s Yerma is physical and the isolation the character feels is conveyed in her body. The emotional pain visibly manifests itself as we watch her body contort. San Pedro’s Jean has the required stoic and distant manner that belies the character’s sheer fear of his marriage and fear of the village gossip.
Scholars argue that Lorca used many of his female characters, such as Yerma, to illustrate the anguish he felt as a homosexual man living in those early years just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. There are strong moments of closeness between the two men, Jean and Victor, and we definitely get the feeling that Jean is empty, lost and unable to deal with his emotions. This is not overplayed in this production but the company leaves it open to interpretation. Lorca’s women are always strong and outspoken, which makes for some fiery scenes between Yerma and Dolores (Christine Brücher) and her sisters-in-law.
The set symbolised the inner and outer worlds of Yerma’s life. It consisted of a box-type farmhouse in the centre of the space and with an outer sliding and an interior sliding door, both resembling large barn doors. The opening and shutting of these sliding doors emphasised that the enclosed private world of Yerma was too difficult to bear and it was easier for her to be out front of the house. A running tap was used on occasion, cleansing and calming the Yerma or washing Jean after his hard day’s work. This was a nod to the countryside feel which Lorca sets most of his plays. It was a refreshing change from the basic Spanish rustic set with all the women dressed in black we usually see with a Lorca play.
The climactic moment of the piece was shocking; the physical nature of this moment was really well executed. When Yerma states J’ai tué mon enfant, (I have killed my child) her love for Victor and her loyalty still to him is evident. The overriding symbol of the wilting was repeated with Bonnet producing a lot of emotional content in her voice.
The visit to the hermitage to seek guidance from Dolores brought the elements of witchcraft, Christian religion and a representation of the suppressed sexual passion that Yerma suffers (and indeed Lorca) to the play. Facco played a pagan figure, whose body symbolised sexual appetite and prowess. His almost naked figure writhed around on a type of altar as he fornicates with another pagan woman. The red light and eerie sounds added to the clandestine atmosphere of the hermitage.
Lorca’s intense exploration of relationships and how constricting and desperate life can be is always makes great viewing. Yerma is a play about loyalty, desire to be loved, unfulfilled passion and also imprisonment. Theatre 13 conveyed all this with great success.
Yerma by Federico García Lorca
In French, directed by Daniel San Pedro.
30 Rue du Chevaleret, 75013, Paris
metro: Bibliothèque F. Mitterand.