You won't escape the grip of Quantum's 'Yerma'
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Love is simple. It's not always easy, but it is simple. There's the emotion; there's the object of the emotion. Longing, on the other hand, is infinitely complex. Its foundation is a hole, an absence. Filled with love, you are sated. Filled with longing, you are empty.
Tony Ferrieri's set for Quantum Theatre's production of "Yerma" not only creates this vast sense of absence, it places the audience inside of it. On stage there is little apart from two bales of dry hay and a barren landscape, perfect for Federico Garcia Lorca's wrenching tale of a woman consumed by her desire for a child.
- Where: Quantum Theatre at ArtDimensions, 6000 Penn Ave., East Liberty
- When: Through April 26. Wed-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sunday 7 p.m. (no performances April 11-12)
- Tickets: $25-$35
- More information: 412-394-3353
The audience surrounds the stage, complicit in trapping Yerma in her sterile world. Society and an unwavering sense of familial honor demand she remain true to her loveless marriage as she spirals toward inevitable tragedy.
There's no escape, a fact made all the more clear by the vast curtains of white fabric that surround the risers, enclosing the audience. Director Melanie Dreyer uses these to evoke a nightmarish quality, with characters looming in shadow behind them, conveying both a sense of the spiritual and the subconscious, two worlds that overlap heavily in Lorca's poetic drama.
The fabrics are also used as screens for Carolina Loyola-Garcia's and Jose Muniain's videos. At times the videos provide clear images: the sheep that are the livelihood of Yerma's community; candles that mirror desperate fertility rites. But more often the videos are abstract, amorphous images that could be wafting smoke or streaming blood. It has the wrong effect, more like staring into a lava lamp than a window into the constricting world or collapsing mind of a passionate young woman.
The passion is there, though, and it's what makes Yerma's story so heartbreaking. Yerma believes her body is lacking life in the sense of a child, but it's also lacking life in the sense of joy and experience. It's her own soul, her own passion that she is unable to give birth to.
This is most clear in the captivating flamenco dancing of Cihtli Ocampo and the stirring, original music of Ethan Margolis. Ocampo dances Yerma's heart. There in Ocampo's swaying hips is Yerma's fire, her love, anger and desire. There in Ocampo's spirited hands is Yerma's soul. As Ocampo's feet stomp, the wooden risers vibrate Yerma's very life into the bodies of the audience.
Melinda Helfrich's expressive eyes drill Yerma's pain into our hearts. Helfrich exhibits amazing control as Yerma. She pulsates with tension, making Yerma's need palpable.
Fermin Suarez is Yerma's husband, Juan, more concerned with his work and his honor than with his young wife. Juan is representative of his patriarchal society and Suarez is hard and cold, more jailer than lover. Much to Suarez's credit, Juan is not completely unsympathetic. His frustration is clear. He is as much a victim of his society as a part of it.
The rest of the cast is strong and features Jarid Faubel as the quiet yet powerful Victor. Virile and sexual, Victor is temptation personified. Bridget Connors, Shammen McCune and Laura Mixon play country women, with McCune adding humor and a bawdy earthiness to her role as the Old Pagan Woman.
Quantum's "Yerma" is an affecting 90 minutes of theater and a reminder, perhaps, that we must not yearn for life. We must live it.
First Published April 6, 2009 12:00 am