The Miracle Theatre
Through March 9
The tragedy of Yerma stems from the internal conflict that rages inside its title character. Yerma wants a baby more than anything, but her husband, for some inexplicable reason, won't sleep with her anymore, and so the only way for her to get pregnant is by way of infidelity. Under the code of traditional Spanish Catholic ethics, such an act would destroy her honor, not to mention her shot at a heavenly afterlife. So harsh is Yerma's moral struggle, that she is finally driven to commit a tragic act of murder.
The key to soaking up the tragic elements of this play, therefore, is being able to empathize with the heroine's epic dilemma. Unfortunately, somewhere during the transition from Spain in 1934 (when Yerma was written), to liberated Portland now, sexuality became much less taboo, and spirituality much less important. When I witnessed Yerma's sinful thoughts in response to her husband's negligence, I wasn't shocked, but thought, "You go, girl!" And when a heathenistic pagan lady told her that the way to get a bun in her oven was not to worry about getting pregnant, but instead, just enjoying the sex, I wasn't outraged, but wanted to shout, "Preach on, Sister!" Yerma is thus about dated issues; dead, dusty old things that are not given new life by the Miracle Theatre's current clumsy production. Indeed, in the hands of director Carmela Lanza Weil, the play has come dangerously close to becoming a comedy, though not an intentional comedy. All the stereotypes of comically bad theater are here: Actors add power to speeches by staring affectedly at a mystery point above the audience; emotional scenes are realized through a steady stream of shouting matches; and of course, there are the requisite long and pointless scene changes.
It is a challenge to breathe life where life has faded. A subtle touch is needed, a delicate self-deprecation that pays homage to its material while also commenting on it. The Miracle's Yerma has the touch of a dropped anvil. Their rejuvenated corpse is a zombie. It stumbles aimlessly, sucking out the brains of innocent bystanders.