As we are ushered into the black box theatre, we hear the gurgling sounds of a baby and a mother cooing. We catch snatches of a playful, original music composition by Juan Vaccaneo. We are about to celebrate a time of great exhilaration and joy.
First Time Mother/Madre Primeriza, written, directed and enacted by Argentine Mariel Rosciano, is a perfect finale for Teatro de la Luna’s 15th International Festival of Hispanic Theater. It’s an experimental, brave piece. It’s a play about the experience of learning a new role– that of motherhood. It’s about natural childbirth that touches on something universal. It’s about creation and pain.
When the lights come up, Mariel Rosciano, as the character Laura is spot-lit on her back, impaled in the birthing position, with knees flexed, legs held up, balanced precariously on a stool. Her head is covered with a plastic hospital cap. Laura, the first-time mother, is on a delivery table yelling that she does not want epidural drugs. She wants to feel everything naturally. Abruptly, lights are brought up to full and Laura stares at us and asks: “What’s wrong with us women to say that labor and delivery is the most wonderful thing in the world?”
Then just as dramatically, lights dim to blackout. In a voice-over, we hear Ricardo, the husband’s anticlimactic point-of-view: “You have no idea what this experience is like…I saw everything….Simply amazing!….I do not remember anything because I fainted!” It’s the first big laugh line in an episodic theatrical piece, filled with laughter, that alternates between lights up on Rosciano’s depictions of six different characters, six perspectives, contrasted with a husband’s recorded voiceovers.
Through Rosciano’s amazing quick-time wig-and-dress changes (costume design by Luciana Gonzalez), and shape-shifting impersonations, the episodic structure of this one-act play explores the problems of a 21st century woman as a wife, homemaker and mother.
As a performer, Mariel Rosciano is a powerhouse of delightful, spontaneous craziness. Her rapid-paced, needling routines are thrilling. She takes risks in presenting the reality of natural childbirth and breast feeding that deflate their cult-like status in recent decades. As for childbirth, let’s face it. Giving birth can be painful. If you deny reality, will it go away? No. But pre-natal courses train women to manage the pain by panting and pushing through the contractions. The theory is that drugs can be avoided by timing deep breathing, that supplies more oxygen to the body, with the contractions. In less clinical terms, Rosciano shows us in a hilarious, virtuosic scene how giving birth to a child transforms a woman’s life.
This production that was three years in the making, confronts the problems career women face in trying to balance it all. One of the best lines in the show comes when Laura tells us her hormones have calmed down and her life has returned to “normal.” “It is then when you understand why no woman tells you how painful labor is, because what comes after that is much worse.”
Breast-feeding, although good for the baby and mom, is not always the easiest. Furthermore, although not every woman goes through it, there’s the possibility of post-partum depression. Then there’s the challenge of enduring the endless advice, from well-meaning friends, grandmothers, mothers, and mothers-in-law, about becoming the “perfect mother.”
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There are the social pressures to raise a “Baby Einstein,” by exposing the child to genius training. Then Laura tells us how movie star Angelina Jolie, who is an intimidating example of the perfect career woman, embraces motherhood. Jolie made famous, “Shantala,” a stimulating baby massage technique. Rosciano uses a rag doll, like a puppet, to demonstrate an exercise that’s supposed to help bonding between mother and infant.
But other than self-help, what kind of aid is available after the babe is born and mom has to go back to her professional career? Grandmothers today no longer are live-ins. They are “fashionable,” have lives of their own and only drop in now and then. And Roscario switches wigs from gray to platinum, to show us different perspectives from previous generations. Grannie, for instance, in a grotesque depiction by Roscario, comes out in bushy, white wig, bringing a gift of elasticized underwear to hide Laura’s spare-tire, post-natal waistline.
First Time Mother (Madre Primeriza)
Closes November 17, 2012
Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2
2700 South Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $30 – $35
Details and tickets
If there is a drawback to this delightful pursuit, it is in the way Ricardo, the husband is portrayed. In my experience, modern males today are more than willing to don an apron or change a diaper. In this play, Ricardo, the husband and new father, is a bit of an insensitive cad.
Kudos to sound design by Jose Mediavilla and production coordination by Rosciano’s younger sister, M. Emilia Rosciano for smooth lighting, scene and sound coordination.
Why is this international festival so important? These performing artists from South America take such artistic chances. Life in the theater is a continuous learning experience. And First Time Mother/Madre Primeriza fits Teatro de la Luna’s theme for their 15th season: A Full Moon of Theatre, that continues in January with a Children’s Theater Festival/Festival de Teatro para Ninos, Saturday, January 19, 2013 at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater.
Performed in Spanish with English translation by the Gazpatxo Company
First Time Mother (Madre Primeriza). Written, directed and acted by Mariel Rosciano . Produced by Gazpatxo Productions/GazpatxoProducciones from Buenos Aires, Argentina for Teatro de la Luna’s 15th International Festival of Hispanic Theater . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy