I Killed My Mother delivers a penetrating look into a young woman’s search for inner peace and happiness. It presents a world unstuck in time, where events from the past and present – and at moments, the future – freely intertwine and literally dance and sing courtesy of Natalia Gleason’s elegant direction on the Spooky Action stage.
From the start, this production is awash in symbolism. Pre-show, the players move purposefully across the stage, until inevitably an obstacle presents itself, forcing them to pause. Do they turn around, go left, or twirl? Each divines his own response to the confrontation and, through force of will, moves onward to the next obstruction. It’s a useful metaphor for unpacking the play to come, which, when it begins in earnest, presents characters emerging from the primordial shadows, one by one. For a brief moment, each makes a gesture of longing, then reacts as the object of that desire – unseen throughout – eludes her grasp.
When we meet Bernadette (Erica Chamblee) – the “I” in the play’s title – she’s ostensibly looking for her father, although soon enough it becomes clear that she’s searching for herself. Identity’s hard for a half-Gypsy who was abandoned at birth and has grown up a ward of an indifferent state, so she’s scraping for any detail about from where and whom she comes – but not because she yearns for a greater connection to her bloodlines. Rather, her objective is to define what she is most definitively not, in hopes this insight will diminish the pain of being an orphan – technically – while her parents still yet live.
Chamblee depicts Bernadette’s suffering with the spry physicality of an Olympian, leaping, thrusting, and tumbling through every beat of her emotional register. At times playful, frightened, lonely, bitter, or hopeful, her Bernadette is determined to eradicate the constraints of her origin story and start anew. But without a mentor, she finds it difficult to move on; only when she meets Clip (the spirited and muscular Kevin Thorne) – with whom she bonds while they endure a cruel punishment for sassing their minders – does she learn the formula for turning her back on her past and embracing the future. But will she have the courage and strength to do so?
This question not only propels I Killed My Mother, but it’s also apt for our national moment. We’re living through a period notable for the rise of Black Lives Matter and protests in defense of refugee and immigrant rights, and the play asks us to acknowledge the contours of marginalization and assess the reparations which may be due from the perspectives of those left out. It’s wholly unconcerned with counter-narratives and backlash from its world’s dominant players – parents, wardens, and social climbers. In playwright Andras Visky’s Romania, malefactors will all be reduced to beggars and the downtrodden will be lifted up for having turned their erstwhile tormentors to stone. It’s a play that demands much from the audience, but it’s a more-than-worthwhile investment given the rewards of experiencing this tortured and often beautiful production.