Presented by and at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 74A E. Fourth St., NYC, March 27-April 13.
Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885-1939), surrealist playwright, is the godfather of contemporary Polish theatre. He achieved secular sainthood when he committed suicide as the Nazis invaded Poland—because a life without free public expression was not worth living.
Therefore, a rare New York production of a Witkiewicz play should be cause for celebration, the more so when it is his 1924 masterpiece, "The Mother." But this production, alas, raises troubling questions about directorial excess.
The text of "The Mother" is divided into two acts of drawing room comedy, followed by an epilogue that makes a grand leap into the surrealistic. The first act depicts mother and grown son as self-absorbed alcoholics, while the second describes a cocaine party where the mother unexpectedly dies from an overdose.
But the epilogue reads as though it were written by Pirandello, when a character called the director makes a confused entrance, followed by the appearance of six workers who take charge of the son. A dark ending follows fast upon.
Unhappily, the real director of this production, Brooke O'Harra, has constructed a series of surrealist distractions that are in place from the very beginning, preventing an audience ignorant of Witkiewicz's text from recognizing the playwright's radical shift into surrealism that begins only with the epilogue.
O'Harra's additions to the first two acts include four large onstage television screens that appear to be transmitting what is happening on stage; the cutting of some roles, substituting dolls for live actors; and a small onstage band conducted by Brendan Connelly that creates quaint, needless music accompanying the action. But most irritating is actress Tina Shepard's use of a singsong guttural growl—her choice?—to deliver all of the Mother's lines. Arresting at first, this trick tires quickly and blurs what she is saying.
Calling attention to her own directorial inventiveness, O'Harra succeeds only in damaging the structural integrity of Witkiewicz's play.