BWW Review: SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER at Streetcar Crowsnest
SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER is a simple, sweet, agonising, and intimate work of autobiographical theatre by some of Toronto's best theatre talent. With a script (mostly) by Hannah Moscovitch and (mostly) starring Maev Beaty, SECRET LIFE offers an inward look at the pains and paradoxes of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood.
The play unfolds mostly through storytelling. Beaty plays her friend and frequent collaborator Hannah Moscovitch, who recounts to the audience her experiences with pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, and working as a mother. The stories are honest and visceral; there is no effort to be appealing or attractive or demure. A wad of fake uterine blood at just the right moments provokes nervous reactions from the audience - can she do that? But of course she can, and she has to; the promise of SECRET LIFE is that it will go further than any mommy blog or Hollywood movie in depicting the truths of motherhood.
The truth is rarely pleasant: miscarriages can be numbing and devastating, childbirth can tear a woman's body apart. Although society demands that women have babies, we do little to support mothers, especially working mothers.
Although the premise of SECRET LIFE is built on frustration, the show itself is full of charm and humour. Moscovitch, via Beaty, finds comedy in the ironies and absurdities of the daily lives of mothers, and shares them with a grateful audience.
At several moments throughout the show, Beaty stops playing Moscovotich and starts playing herself - or as much of herself as one can be on stage. She tells her own stories, which often mirror Moscovitch's, and recounts her own memories, which sometimes completely contradict Moscovotich's.
What emerges is a sense of dialogue between two great artists. Both already long-established creators, Beaty and Moscovitch entered the world of motherhood just a few years apart. (Indeed, an eight-month pregnant Beaty's performances as Elizabeth I, Adolf Hitler, and Ronald Reagan in Passion Play in 2012 earned unanimous praise from critics, many of whom also could not resist mentioning her pregnancy in their writing). Their combined wisdom granted them great theoretical insight, but the limitations of their past work as artists - as creators of the gesture, the suggestion, the figurative - left them with questions about the literal, biological realities of motherhood unanswerable until the moment of.
By exploring these questions together through their art, Beaty and Moscovitch are participating in the historical-artistic tradition of artistic dialogue, a tradition maintained by such great minds as Hitchcock/Truffaut, Gauguin/van Gogh, and Tolkien/Lewis. Through SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER, Moscovitch and Beaty have introduced Canada to another great artistic dialogue, one which we can only hope to listen to much more in years to come.
SECRET LIFE OF A MOTHER runs through 23 February at Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Ave, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Kyle Purcell