Teatro Avante, producer and host company of the acclaimed International Hispanic Theatre Festival, drew this year's festivities to a climactic close with its bold adaptation of Federico García Lorca's Yerma. In contrast to the festival's other highlights, which included a month-long series of new solo shows and original plays from six countries, the twentyseven-year-old and ever-evolving Avante reverently reimagined a classic Spanish text, revealing Lorcas piece as one that endures to challenge limiting stage conventions as much as any present-day work. Innovations in casting, costume, choreography, music, and properties extended Yermas dialogue into an entrancing hypersensory world, while choices made in developing a distinctive new voice for the play also reformulated its Spanish tones into a Latin Americanized production for a broader contemporary audience.
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Adapted by Havana-based Raquel Carrió and directed by her frequent collaborator Lilliam Vega, Yerma's typically mammoth cast was reduced to an active ensemble of five actors representative of various Latin American backgrounds, while Lorcas representations of a rural Andalusian countryside were exchanged for a floating stage where both scenes and cultural cues shifted without any anchorable locus. The creative team instead signified alterations in character, place, and time by the integration of key costume props into stylized movement sequences. These nonverbal solutions elaborated the text, re-envisioning it through a modern eye while retaining its timelessness—with a result that was indulgently anatopic, but not anachronistic. Jorge Noa and Pedro Balmasedas set and costume designs (a joint effort; it was hard to distinguish where set ended and costume began in this production) and Humberto Gonzálezs choreography created a pulsing lyricism that complemented and transcended Yerma's already potent language.
Avantes pared-down, minimalist approach solved not only the usual set of practical production demands, but also the greater challenges posed by Lorcas lyric drama. The script resists classification as a play; dubbed in 1934 by its author a tragic poem in three acts and six scenes, Yerma remains a performance text that evokes moods rather than portraying static places or characters. Teatro Avantes organic staging, unbound by representable space, time, and bodies, naturally dramatized this poems psychological scenes, all of which propelironically and inevitablytoward a violent, physical end.
The original scripts chorus of gossipy laundresses manifested here, in a feat of role-doubling as provocative as it was economic, as second roles for the actors playing Victor, Maria, and the Old Pagan Crone. Resulting attitudes expressed by townswomen stood in stark contrast not only to Yerma, but also to the bodies of actors who portrayed them. [End Page 288]
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Gerardo Riverón delivered a powerful performance embodying only female characters (the Old Pagan Crone and one Laundress), confronting Yerma with a majestic, resonant voice behind sunglassed eyes and luxurious headdresses. His figure was cloaked in a drag that not only obscured gender, but age, nationality, and cultural influence. Costuming, especially in scenes of pagan ritual, was situated ambiguously across eras and communities, evoking pre- and post-Columbian Americas and indexing Aztec traditions. What unified these elements, and married them to the world of this play, was a very pregnant motif of lush yards of fabric, whose frayed edges and exaggerated lengths swept the stage in exhibition of their potential as raw material.
Yerma (Jacqueline Briceño) reclined with her dress spread backward in a striking opening tableau, rising to reveal layers of cloth unfolding to drape her exposed body. The newly pregnant María (Hannia Guillén) introduced more fabric when she presented linen for baby clothes and entertained Yermas curiosities about carrying a child before she exited. Elaborating on Lorcas script, Carrió dramatized conflict, implied here as inner monologue, in a captivating dream scene: María returned with the linens bulging beneath her...