MADRE Written and directed by Beatriz Pizano (Aluna). At Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson). To February 17. Pwyc-$25. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN
Mother love can be fierce or gentle, tenacious or tender. What happens, though, when it’s forgetful?
Julia, the central figure in Beatriz Pizano’s Madre, is a Colombian woman in her 70s (Marcia Bennett) fighting and sometimes unaware of the increasing effects of Alzheimer’s. As past and present blur in her mind, her daughter Angela (Anita La Selva) returns from 20 years in Canada, worried about her mother’s health.
Writer/director Pizano handles time shifts by staging episodes from Julia’s life that the older woman watches. These involve her younger self, her husband, Jorge, and her own mother, Anna, who constantly belittles Julia.
The first half of the script moves slowly, and some of its narrative elements feel underwritten. We could know more about the couple’s trip to Europe, for instance, and about Angela’s history in Canada. Also, Pizano’s attempt to parallel Colombia’s unstable politics with the dysfunctional family doesn’t resonate strongly; the former comes across like occasional background rather than a vivid story element.Audience involvement begins in the play’s wonderfully touching second half, with Julia’s recognition of her self-worth and a pair of reconciliations, with her younger self and with Angela.
The climactic scene that starts over a convivial bottle of wine between Julia and Angela turns into a ferocious, accusatory brawl. What’s remarkable about the scene is the betrayal and abandonment felt by both women, and the closeness they discover in that mutual discovery.
Bennett, as the sometimes confused but never maudlin Julia, rightly anchors the production. She suggests frailty of body and memory, but never of spirit. There’s fine work, too, by Rosa Laborde’s sensual young Julia, Carlos González-Vio’s passionate Jorge and Rosalba Martinni’s rigid Anna, whose daughter never measures up to expectations.
Just as effective is Trevor Schwellnus’s set, which distorts everyday objects with projections and see-through mirrors, magically suggesting the melting together of yesterday and today.