For I Killed My Mother, you enter Spooky Action Theater through the bowels of a church, winding through the basement where performers are stationed—singing, strumming guitar, watching you walk by, or just wandering the performance space, which is a whole lot of gray and concrete. It’s a creepy introduction to what is to unfold and an intriguing start to a promising play.
Orphans Bernadette and Clip face pain and death as they march through Romania’s “institution for the annihilation of children.” Together, they survive as best as they can, disappearing into a make-believe place called the “Realm of Never” and speaking in a fake language, both fashioned, in large part, by Clip. Bernadette (Erica Chamblee) has a gypsy mother named Ella Grigutza (Domonique Gay) and a white, blonde, rich father named Laszlo Csendes. Their lives are forever merged in Bernadette’s existence: lonely, confused, unwanted. And, against all odds, triumphant.
I Killed My Mother by Romanian playwright Adras Visky, is often absorbing and poetic, exploring universal themes of identity, loss, alienation, and forgiveness in a stream of conscious kind of way. But the production sometimes feels glacial in pacing and un-rooted in a culture or place—which would be instrumental to understanding Bernadette.
She narrates and we jump with her in and out of memories that materialize into scenes as Clip (Kevin Thorne), her sometimes adoptive mother Clara (Karoline Huber), and the Tiramisu Café gang (an eclectic group of co-workers she bonds to as a young adult) step into flesh. Being in someone’s consciousness presents challenges as things are often not linear, and Bernadette is a child a large portion of the time—a kid whose imagination mixes with reality to makes sense of situations. Which means she might not be fully reliable as a narrator of truth and details, but she is fully reliable as a narrator of emotions, which are raw and unnerving from start to finish.
I Killed My Mother
closes September 30, 2017
Details and tickets
Bernadette is a headstrong survivor, unafraid to speak her mind or fight back against a system that brands her as less-than from birth. The show largely succeeds here, driving home that being an orphan in Eastern Europe is to be abused, neglected, and tortured. And, that being an adult who was an orphan also sucks, something Bernadette grapples with as she, encouraged by her on-off boyfriend Fly (Jesse Marciniak) and friends Gay (Mediombo Singo-Fofana) and Break (Ivan Zizek), comes face-to-face with the mother who left her during her infancy.
That the content of the play is powerful, startling even, is without question. And, Chamblee and Thorne, as best friends and first loves, are a good pairing who provide much of the show’s depth. They are the only two we spend much time with as the rest of the cast step into numerous roles. But the play’s opening is measured to the point of being tedious, failing to grab and pull you in.
For me the issue is that the story is greatly dependent on a place and time—Romania during the era of Communism. But Chamblee’s Bernadette comes off and feels incredibly modern and American. The cast is also a mix of cultures with varying accents, and I couldn’t tell if that was by design or not. Either way, I didn’t find myself fully immersed in the world of a Romanian orphan as a way to talk about identity, alienation, and survival. Instead I felt as if I was exploring all those things in a far too abstract way, making the play lose some power.
I realize this was likely a stylistic choice and that it may work for others—and there were plenty of people present who seemed to appreciate this. But I felt groundless most of the play and struggled to see Bernadette as a product of her environment, which was said to be one thing, but presented as something different. Maybe this was done to drive home the universality of finding a place in the world amid adversity.
The costumes are nondescript and plain, just as the set is a sea of empty, open space. But the characters don’t always seem to occupy the same world, which was distracting.
This is not an easy play. It’s layered and complex on every level—from themes to the narrative arc. It’s an intriguing piece with many good performances, and moments. The play—once it gets going—has a poetic rhythm and language to match. For that I give the cast and director, Natalia Gleason Nagy, mad props.
I Killed My Mother by Andras Visky. Directed and Produced by Natalia Gleason Nagy. Featuring Erica Chamblee, Kevin Thorne, Karoline Huber, Mediombo Singo Fofana, Ivan Zizek, Jesse Marciniak, and Dominique Gay. Production: Olivia Haller, Dramaturg; Bryanda Minix, Assistant Director and Props Designer; Bruce Wiljanen, Production Designer and Lighting Designer; Zsuzsanna Magony, Set Designer and Costume Designer; Jesse Marciniak, Sound Designer; Ferenc Kiss, Composer; Salvador Fawkes and Erica Chamblee, Choreographers; Joseph Mariano and Tatiana Startseva, Producing Patrons. Stage Managed by Laura Schlachtmeyer . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.
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