Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger
By Arney Rosenblat
With every beat of Her heart she
and the audience slip further into searing despair as her desire to be a mother
and have a child of her own unravels into an unfulfilled dream, which leaves
the audience as wounded as Billie Piper, who virtually embodies Frederico
Garcia Lorca's lead character in his scorching play Yerma.
Whether one can accept Yerma's
premise that a woman's inability to conceive a child can send her down the
rabbit hole to madness, it is impossible not to accept that this is what
unquestionably happens to Her, the otherwise unnamed successful blogger and
journalist who becomes obsessed with her own fertility. Piper won the 2017 Olivier Award for her role when the play
premiered at the Young Vic in London in 2016
Lorca's original Yerma, the
second part of what is called his "Rural Trilogy" which also
includes Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, was originally set in a
Spanish Village in the early thirties where a farmer's wife prays unrelentingly
but without success to be a mother. Her name, Yerma implies the Spanish
word for barren.
The creative Australian director
and playwright, Simon Stone saw something timeless and universal in the Lorca
story and reinterpreted it for a 21st-century audience placing the story in London
where a successful modern feminist heroine in her thirties, known as Her,
decides with her life partner that it's time to start a family, a decision ceremoniously
marked by her partner stomping on her birth control pills.
Stone reveals the longing of the
play's central character to be a mother, the pressure that mounts around her
and the desperation that ultimately consumes her as totally contemporary.
(TV fans may recognize Billie Piper, Mr. Stone's choice for Her, from her roles
in "Doctor Who," "Penny Dreadful," and the Netflix series
Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger
The difficulty of infertility not
only deeply impacts Her but also begins to destroy her relationships with
everyone else around her and sympathies see-saw between Piper's Her and her
partner John, superbly portrayed by Brendan Cowell with a mixture of affection,
frustration and incomprehension. Throughout the process Her confessional
blog documents the trauma online trapping her character within the ruthless
echo-chamber of the Internet.
According to Mr. Stone, "I
wanted to engage in an almost scientific dissection of a modern woman's descent
into personal tragedy. We watch her as if she's under a microscope or
inside a terrarium." Lizzie Clachan's austere set design wrapping
the action in a veritable glass box in which the audience sits on two side
serves the director's goals extraordinarily well. Particularly at a venue such
as the Park Avenue Armory. From this vantage the viewers watch facts
mount and the specimen react. Likewise, Stefan Gregory's soundscape
enhances the story's impact as it provides increasingly dissonant musical
interludes between Brecht-like captioned scenes, such as
"Conception," "Disillusion," "Moratorium,"
"Reality," "Deception," "Descent," and
While Her is willing to do almost
anything to get pregnant, failing again and again to do so, virtually everyone
around her is getting pregnant whether they really want to or not, which
heightens her torment. Especially frustrating to our central character is
her ever fertile sister Mary, Charlotte Randle giving a subtle understated
performance, who is overwhelmed by her parenting responsibilities and her aloof
mother, Helen, chillingly captured by Maureen Beattie, for whom being pregnant
was like being inhabited by an alien.
Says Helen, "I hated the
idea of getting pregnant. Being colonized by someone's sperm. You
know that film Alien. Well that's a very accurate representation of what
my pregnancies felt like." Apparently, things didn’t change
much after Her was born as her mother still finds it all but impossible to even
Also in Her's immediate circle
and pull/push relationship are Des, a sparkling Thalissa Teixeira, her trendy
assistant, and Her's former boyfriend Victor, an engagingly perplexed
John MacMillan, who works at Her's same publication.
One of the most poignant moments
in the play is when Her and John's union comes to its shattering end.
Grieves John, "You ate up
all the oxygen in our relationship, you left no room for me."
Her responds, "If you wanted
a… child, then you would have mourned with me, you would have ached with me,
you would have hoped with me, you would have struggled and... fought...”
John, “I wanted you... you to be
happy...you, to be mine."
Her takes us on hellish journey
with a shocking conclusion, but you can't help but take the ride nor can you
Off Broadway play
1 hr. and 40 minutes, no
Park Avenue Armory
643 Park Avenue at 67th
Closing Date: April 21,2018