In a new adaptation that centers one woman’s agency over her own fertility, Shotgun Players’ production of Yerma begins May 20. The sensual drama, adapted and translated by Melinda Lopez, is based on the original text by Federico García Lorca. As reproductive choice and bodily autonomy face threats in the U.S. from legislative rollback and lobbying, Yerma explores the themes of autonomy, feminism, fertility and the right to choose one’s own destiny.
Yerma, May 20-June 18, Ashby Stage. Tickets at shotgunplayers.org or (510) 841-6500 ext. 303. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at previews. Live-stream and video on-demand options are available.
The titular character, Yerma, longs above all to have a child. Yerma is played by Regina Morones — herself a new mother. In this darkly poetic fable, Yerma’s obsessive desire propels her into a collision with the universe that is urgent and terrible in scope.
“There is a storm, a fire that consumes Yerma,” said director Katja Rivera. The show explores the ways in which one’s greatest desire can become an all-consuming passion. Pulling a line from the text, Rivera said: “What happens when your greatest desire is murdered?”
Spanish playwright and poet Frederico García Lorca wrote the original play in 1934, just two years before his murder by firing squad at the hands of right-wing militants. García Lorca had struggled with his sexuality and the repression of homosexuality in Spanish society during his lifetime. Although he never publicly identified as gay, he wrote extensively about same-sex desire in his poems and plays, often using veiled language and metaphor. The play’s themes of infertility, marriage and motherhood are often read as reflections of García Lorca’s own desires and struggles. Many critics have noted that Yerma’s struggle can be seen as a metaphor for the writer’s own unfulfilled desire for family and acceptance.
San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater commissioned the adaptation by Cuban-American playwright Melinda Lopez in 2015, and its world premiere opened at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston in 2019. Boston magazine The Arts Fuse called her adaptation “approachable, even conversational, without losing the beauty of Lorca’s poetry.” It also serves what Lopez has described as her own “secret, evil plan: to create complex, Latina women and put them center stage.”
In a searing work that combines humor, music, poetry and tragedy, Lopez’s adaptation honors the original Spanish classic, weaving the original poetry with a visceral exploration of raw, human emotions.
“Lopez has changed the play in bold, and, I think, very cool, ways,” said Rivera. For the director, a longtime Shotgun Players company member and Berkeley resident, the play felt particularly resonant. Her paternal grandmother died of complications during childbirth the same year García Lorca’s Yerma was written and first performed. So she set Lopez’s adaptation in a rural Mexican-American community in 1930s California, “as an homage to the San Fernando Valley where my father spent his youth,” she said. “Once I discovered that connection, I knew I had to set it in this time and place.”
Setting the show in Southern California also meant shifting it to “a Latine/Mexican-Californian lens,” Rivera said. “It’s why I cast Latine actors and designers.” In addition to Morones as Yerma, Caleb Cabrera plays her husband, Juan. Rivera hopes audiences will leave the sensual, powerful drama feeling a sense of catharsis, she said. “I want them to feel gutted.”
To foster community and connection, Shotgun Players will offer facilitated conversations every Thursday and Sunday following in-person performances. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at previews, and live-stream and video on-demand options are also available.
Yerma runs at the Shotgun Players’ Ashby Stage May 20 through June 18.