MADRE written and directed by Beatriz Pizano, with Marcia Bennett, Juliette Burgos, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Rosa Laborde, Anita La Selva and Rosalba Martinni. Presented by Aluna at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). Previews begin Tuesday (January 29), opens Thursday (January 31) and runs to February 17, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $25, Tuesday and Sunday mat pwyc-$15, stu/srs discount, previews $15. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
The mother-daughter bond stretches across continents and cultures in Beatriz Pizano’s Madre.
At its heart is Julia, a Colombian woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s who reaches out to her daughter Angela, who lives in Canada. The play slides abruptly across the years as Julia’s memory moves unbidden between past and present.
What’s striking about the piece is that, with these shifts in time, we see Julia at two points in her life, in youth and as a woman in her 70s. Occasionally, the elder character watches her younger self make life-changing decisions.
“Being in that phase of life myself,” says Marcia Bennett, who plays the older Julia, “I realize how we try to make sense of the loss, grief and transition in relationships that we all go through.
“Because Julia knows she won’t be around much longer, she feels an urgent need to get a perspective on her life before such thoughts are impossible.”
Ironically, Angela also feels the pressure to analyze the past when she reconnects with her mother, returning to Colombia when she realizes Julia is going through a crucial life change.
Although her parents sent Angela to Canada for safety during the civil unrest in Colombia, she’s stayed in the North, choosing to distance herself from her mother yet unsure why she remains rootless.
“She feels the same pressure to find answers before her mother gets past the point of assisting her,” muses Anita La Selva, who portrays Angela. “After some two decades in Canada, my character is forced to return home and confront her life as well as the rightness or wrongness of choices she herself has made.”
Born into a wealthy family, the young Julia was forced to move from country to city to escape the consequences of civil war. In the play’s present, there’s still an element of danger outside Julia’s apartment; military and political pressures are part of the characters’ everyday lives.
“Julia was considered the unattractive child and constantly reminded about that by her mother,” offers Bennett, who’s back onstage after years of TV and film work. “As a result, she has low self-esteem, but the flip side is that she’s also highly intelligent and passionate, and her inability to affirm her strengths has resonated throughout her life.
“She even has trouble believing her husband, Jorge, when he tells her how much he loves her and how beautiful she is. When the emotionally isolated Julia relives episodes of her past, literally sees herself as a young woman, she experiences a strange kind of pleasure and pain, even in moments of happiness.”
In several ways, argue the two actors, the play deals with betrayal – by one’s body, by lovers, family, even by one’s country – and the ways the characters deal with it.
“The movement from betrayal to acceptance is part of the journey travelled by both Angela and Julia,” says La Selva, a member of the URGE Collective. “Betrayal has to be confronted now before either of them can move toward acceptance of the other.”
“And it all happens through memory,” continues Bennett, seen most recently in the hit TV series Slings And Arrows.
“Because of Julia’s worsening Alzheimer’s, her memory gets distorted. She has to work double-time to appear normal, but that becomes utterly impossible partway through the play.
“Her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s, too, though the condition didn’t have a name in those days. Julia worries that she’ll follow her mother, take that awful journey into oblivion. We are, after all, the sum total of our memories, and that’s a terrifying concept for a thoughtful woman like Julia.”
“The idea of memory also relates to the mother-daughter link, which is about unconditional love despite all the conflict and frustration in their lives,” adds La Selva. “We don’t realize how much we’re influenced by our mothers, even when we think we’re making our own choices.
“But when Angela is forced to look into her soul, she realizes that bond with her mother has shaped her, like it or not.”