Be warned: The Mothers is pretty intense.
Sort of like motherhood.
Nicole Moeller’s new play premiering as part of the SkirtsAfire Festival is a gruelling experience, an inducement to κάθαρσις (catharsis) by which Aristotle would be startled. Annette Loiselle’s performance as Grace, the only character on stage (although she has a few smile and tear inducing moments as Grace-imitating-son-Ben and Grace-imitating-husband-Chris, and Grace-having-conversation-with-Grace-imitating-woman-sharing-a-smoke), is rivetting and wrenching. Loiselle metamorphosizes instantly between beyond-exhausted ex-alcoholic mother-and-wife, emotionally-repressed-manly-husband, slouching-black-hoodied-outcast-teenage-boy, and a thousand other moments of shatter and agony and despair.
About my only criticism of the play and production is a small and doubtful one: it might have ended better, with more punch, without the final sentence.
The new Black Box Theatre in the Alberta Avenue Community Hall is a wonderful addition to Edmonton’s Arts infrastructure, particularly in this still young annus horribilis of Roxy fire and ARTery eviction. Every Community League in the city would be well advised to take a look and consider the possibilities of a small, flexible, versatile arts space right in their neighbourhood.
Danielle Masellis’ set design I realize in hindsight is in a way reflective of the Black Box itself. As the audience enters the simple space of the auditorium, they see the simple space of the stage. It is clearly a pretty dingy basement room. Square grey short-pile carpet. Square, low ceiling with one dim light fixture that was already old in everyone’s childhood. The room is about to be moved out of or about to be moved into. Empty furniture, full boxes. A guitar case. A floor lamp. One door, closed. A dusty heat vent high in the back wall. A teenage boys room, or an exiled woman’s flop-house, or a 21st century Gregor Samsa’s final dwelling. The transformation of the set at Loiselle’s hands, from empty, blank slate to the cluttered shambles of a teen boy’s bedroom is a sort of organic magic, the magic that live theatre can bring to the simplest of Black Box spaces.
I’m not sure if Sound Designer Paul Morgan Donald is responsible for the choice of Kate Bush’s Ariel as the music playing before the play begins, but the fact that “Bertie”, Bush’s song for her own son, was the song playing as the house lights dim seems a stroke of either intentional or serendipitous genius. The tolling bell of the grandfather clock which appears a few times is nicely Donne, as well.
As I often do at the theatre, I made fairly extensive notes about details of the play. I know that director Glenda Stirling and the Company don’t want details of the fundamental situation of the play leaked: I certainly won’t be doing that. I will, however, remark on a few specifics while avoiding spoilers. The family trauma is gradually and organically revealed through Grace’s extended apostrophe to her son, Ben. The recurrent references to “Forgiveness” and some other verbal threads masterfully further the progress of understanding for both Grace and the audience. The literary references, particularly to Kafka, are startlingly spot on. And Grace’s description of a mother looking at her adult child and feeling the body-memory of the pre-birth Kick Inside is a simply exquisite moment, one of many in The Mothers.
As in real life, everyone has clay feet – there are no heroes in The Mothers, only Survivors.
And maybe surviving is the most heroic thing.
The Mothers, by Nicole Moeller and starring Annette Loiselle will be playing through March 8th, 2015, at the Black Box Theatre in the Alberta Avenue Community Hall, 9210 118th Avenue, as part of the SkirtsAfire Festival
Let’s close with “Bertie”, by his mother, Kate Bush: