Is a mother’s love unconditional, or can it be stretched beyond breaking-point? This is the consuming theme in Evan Placey’s Mother of Him at the Park Theatre, which was inspired by events at York University, Toronto in 2007.
Oberman makes this a compelling production worthy of being seen.
Where the play is going is unclear till the big revelation, but the opening scenes introduce a middle-class, suburban, one-parent home. Mother, Brenda Kapowitz, (Tracy-Ann Oberman) and her younger son, Jason (shared between Hari Aggarwal and Matt Goldberg), are going through the breakfast rituals of getting an eight-year-old ready for school. His reluctance to leave the house unaccompanied suggests that all is not well. Blinding paparazzi flashlights flood the doorway as he finally makes his exit. The house is under siege and the cause is soon revealed when friend and attorney Robert Rosenburg (Simon Hepworth) arrives. The elder son, Matthew (Scott Folan), asleep upstairs, is a fraternity member on trial for a sickening crime and currently under house arrest. It’s Hannukah and attempts to celebrate are extremely strained.
Mother is the central character around whom everything revolves, not just by virtue of the script, but because this production is dominated by Oberman’s meticulous performance. Her movements, poses, turns and gestures are attuned precisely to the text. With a finely honed Jewish-Canadian accent, her delivery is to the point and her timing perfect. She gives full vent to the rage and the anger that burns within Brenda, including a grand hysterical outburst. Even more penetrating are the moments when she slows down the action and calmly expresses the all-consuming bitterness and disgust she feels, often venomously expressing painful and shocking sentiments as love and hatred ravage her in emotional warfare.
Mother of Him was Placey’s debut work and the failure to fill out the other characters in the play is probably a reflection of that. The extent to which the emphasis is on Mother is revealed in the minimal attention paid to Him. There is no examination of Matthew’s motives or explanation of his behaviour, outside of some courtroom rehearsals about what he’s going to say. Folan’s pale looks, lean figure and mostly muted delivery add to the sidelining of the character, making him seem an unlikely criminal. Perhaps, on the other hand, it just makes the point that anyone is potentially capable of such actions. In either case he seems insufficiently perturbed by his misdeeds and their inevitable consequences. In contrast, Aggarwal convincingly displays the young boy with chirpy brightness, yet still showing his vulnerability and sometimes moaning. He also chillingly delivers the worrying twist in Jason’s demeanour towards the end. Hepworth performs the balancing act between being a friend of the family and legal counsel in standard form, highlighting the occasional conflict of interest, but largely remaining a foil to Oberman’s sharp tongue. The appearance of Brenda’s estranged husband, Robert (Simon Hepworth) adds a little more background to the story and allows for the introduction of a matrimonial blame game laden with recriminations. Again, Hepworth is no match for Oberman in this and by virtue of both the writing and his performance he comes over as a lacklustre character hesitantly trying to overcome the past.
Lee Newby’s pale battle-ship grey, monotone walls perhaps hint at a war zone but do nothing to create a sense of homeliness.The matching blocks that form the set are adaptable but require laborious reconfiguration by ASM’s and cast to form the kitchen, bedroom and living room. Watching these between-scenes reconstructions creates the feeling that there was surely an easier and less intrusive way to achieve the effect. Director Max Lindsay might have given this more attention along with how to create greater balance between the characters and more energy outside of Mother.
The weaknesses in this Mother of Him would be more obvious and it would be of only passing interest if it were not for the leading lady. Oberman makes this a compelling production worthy of being seen.