Differences between the characters of Yerma and Maria
Clearly there are significant differences between the characters of Yerma and Maria. To highlight these differences, one must choose people with contrasting physical attributes. Likewise, it is necessary to direct them in such a way that their differing attitudes, in particular their differing ideas concerning childbirth and family life.
To cast the character of Yerma, I would look for someone relatively tall. Also, I would look for somebody quite gaunt looking, to give the impression of being ‘barren’. I would also cast someone with long, black hair and a strong, upright posture to give an idea of strength and determination. Vocally, I would want somebody with a very powerful voice, as Yerma is a powerful character.
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Maria is a comparatively weaker character; I would cast somebody shorter, with shorter, lighter hair. Also, I would choose somebody with more gentle features than Yerma, to give her the impression of being a more laid back character. She would be average build, as opposed to Yerma’s thinner build. Her voice would be gentle, although require enough power for the audience to hear.
In Act 1, Scene 1, I would direct Maria to enter in a bouncy, joyful way; her Laban effort would be quick speed, flexible movement into space and light idea of weight: flicking. She would have a light-toned voice, high in pitch and fast in pace, to show excitement and naivety. She would say ‘If I had my way, I’d be waiting at the door when they opened!’ very swiftly, and almost trip over her own words. She would at this point be moving towards Yerma, putting down her bundle.
Yerma, at the beginning of the scene, would move with a ‘dabbing’ Laban effort; quick speed, direct movement into space, light feeling of weight. This is because she is both excited for and jealous of Maria, and wants to get straight to the point, hence direct movement. Vocally, she would speak sincerely and with admiration. To do this, her pace would be quick, but she would still speak clearly. The line ‘But – when it happened…? Tell me!’ would be done in a display of desperation; she would physically grab Maria, and slightly shake her. She would look with her eyes straight ahead, locking eye contact in all severity for this moment. This would show her desperation for a baby, as she tries to get Maria to tell her how she had a baby, as if it were some secret that Maria alone knew.
Later on in the scene, the two discuss mothering. Maria complains of the baby scratching her; ‘when he was four months, he covered our faces with scratches!’. She would say this in a light-hearted way, raising her voice at the end, and with a slightly upturned mouth to show she is mirthful. Yerma’s reaction, ‘But those things don’t hurt!’ would be similarly jocular. However, later on in the scene, Yerma will become colder and more sincere. The line ‘That’s a lie! Mothers who say that are weaklings, complainers!’.
I would direct her to say this with contempt; she would end her words harshly, almost as if spitting. Each word would be abrupt, and she would narrow her eyebrows. Her posture would be to straighten her back, as if to assume a position of superiority, as this is a subject she is passionate about the subject; she has ‘duende’, a force driven by passion, inside her. Conversely, Maria is very timid. She would shrink back defensively at this, bending her backbone ever so slightly, and moving back very slightly. She would say ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’ quietly, almost apologetically; she would lower her pitch and pace with each word, as if ashamed to speak.
In Act 2, Scene 2, I would direct Maria to bend her back slightly, to scurry past Yerma’s house. This would give the impression she is trying to avoid Yerma. When Yerma calls ‘Maria’, I would have Maria double-back and enter Yerma’s house sheepishly. To do this, she would walk slowly into Yerma’s house, facing the ground. There would be a slightly awkward atmosphere, despite the fact that Yerma and Maria are seemingly friends. Maria would say ‘it makes me sad that you are envious’ in a solemn way; a low tone and slow pace, with quite a low, sullen pitch. She would speak like this to show sympathy and sorrow for Yerma. Her Laban effort would be gliding: quick speed, direct movement and light weight. Her posture would be bent over her baby. Yerma, saying ‘I’m not envious, I’m deprived’ would speak and move like Maria, only she would emphasise ‘deprived’, and look downwards sorrowfully, her mouth turned down.
A bit later on in the scene, I would direct Yerma to become almost hostile in her approach; she would speak sharply and with a feeling of anger at the fact she doesn’t have a baby; ‘I’m part of the refuse discarded by God’s hand!’ I would have Yerma emphasise ‘discarded’ with contempt as before; shortenening vowel sounds and almost spitting the word out. Maria’s reaction would be one of fear for her baby, so she would take her baby back at this point. Yerma would continue in her self-deprecating attitude, whilst Maria tries to comfort her. Maria would speak in comforting tones; she would raise her voice at the end of each clause, offering suggestions to give Yerma hope. She would speak softly, drawing out her vowel sounds. ‘What about your husband?’ for example, is a line where she is trying to offer Yerma some hope, speaking in this way.
Just before Maria exits, when Yerma is looking at the child, there is another slight change in attitude. Maria says ‘In a little while, he’ll start to sing!’, quite joyfully; she raises her voice at the end, speaks with a high pitch and a steady pace. This will show enthusiasm, love for her baby, and an attempt to lighten the mood. However, when Yerma comments that ‘He has the same eyes as you [Maria]’, she is crying as she does so. Therefore, her pace would be slow and sad, with a low tone, and she would gently push Maria out of the house. Maria would then go without a word. This would show the awkward difference between the women. Also, it would show that Yerma wants Maria out, so that she can meet with the women in secrecy, to visit the pagan shrine.