An Uncontrollable Fate: An Interview with Melinda Lopez

Huntington Playwright-in-Residence Melinda Lopez’s work as a writer spans from stage to audiobooks: her play Sonia Flew was the inaugural production of the Wimberly Theatre in 2004; in 2018 her plays were published in Spanish and graced the stages of Cuba; more recently, her one-woman show Mala was released by Audible. As rehearsals began on her new adaptation of Yerma, she spoke with Literary/Marketing Apprentice Adriana Zuñiga about the discoveries Lorca made that resonate today.

What is your connection to Federico García Lorca?

I’ve had a real passionate relationship with that playwright and poet for many years. I find I turn to his work because his voice as an author is so clear. He’s writing about the most basic elements of life: love, passion, revenge, and fertility. It’s very primal, poetic, and beautiful. When I was in graduate school at Boston University, I took a class with Rosanna Warren. In the class, I worked on Blood Wedding, and that was my first attempt at translating Lorca.

What drew you specifically to Yerma?

It’s Lorca’s least performed great play. A lot of people know The House of Bernarda Alba and Blood Wedding. Yerma is not often done because of poor translations. The story is so important, and the character at the center of the play is so compelling. She is a great theatrical heroine, and I want American audiences to get excited about her!

What is your approach to play translation?

You must decide if you want to convey the meaning or if you want to capture the sound of the original. Do you want the poems to rhyme like they do in Spanish, or do you want to convey something that’s more colloquial? In Spanish, everything is very sonorous, very beautiful, and sometimes it’s hard to accomplish that in English. I want the language to feel immediate and urgent spoken by real people. I found that so many translations of Lorca focus on getting the word-to word specifics. I want the play to feel it’s being spoken by the characters in the moment, while at the same time maintaining that magic of the world.

Why did you choose to keep the original play’s rural setting in anagrarian society?

The play is originally rooted in southern Spain where certain crops grow; they talk about sheep and apples. But everything revolves around a need for water. There are many agrarian communities in our country that face similar issues. I thought about the Central Valley in California, especially because there is a very large Latinx community of farmers working there and I wanted to keep that sense of connection to the Spanish language. But a lot of the play also feels like Vermont; it could really be anywhere in this country where water is precious andwhere people work closely with the land. These communities aren’t living in a pastoral romantic image presented in the play; one bad season can ruin a family economically. There are real stakes involved.

How does Yerma speak to an audience today?

The play’s focus is on a woman who is desperate to lead a traditional life. By traditional, I mean she wants to be a mom, have lots of children, and raise them while her husband goes out and earns a living. There are parallels between how Lorca views tradition in his culture with our own cultural icon of the “traditional” stay-at-home mom. In Lorca’s play, Yerma feels that she is destined to be a mother, and yet her body won’t cooperate. There’s a great dramatic conflict right there.We have science and a deep understanding of how conception works. We want to believe that we have power over our own bodies, and over our own destinies.What I’ve learned from friends and colleagues who struggle with infertility is that we don’t have total control over our bodies. The play is not an investigation of assigning blame. It’s an investigation of what happens to a body and a soul when they cannot fulfill what they think they were born to do.

In Yerma’s longing to be a mother, you hear the playwright’s voice as well. Lorca was a gay man living at the beginning of the rise of fascism in Spain. There was no opportunity for people who did not fit the traditional model to have children.Yerma’s desperation for a child is not gendered. The play is about a person who is in conflict with their fate. It’s about being denied the opportunity to be fully yourself. That’s an internal conflict many of us experience.

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