BWW Review: Emotional, Impressionistic I KILLED MY MOTHER at Spooky Action
Being called "the Tennessee Williams of Transylvania" is just about the coolest moniker a playwright could receive.
And yet, that's the one attached to András Visky, resident dramaturg at the Cluj-Napoca Hungarian theatre in Romania. Three of his best known works have just been published this year in English by the University of Chicago, and one of them is being staged at the Spooky Action Theatre in the basement of the Universalist national Memorial Church on 16th St NW.
"I Killed My Mother" is a surprising inquiry into identity and culture that combines drama, dance, music and poetry.
It achieves its artful goals on the skills of its talented cast and particularly that of Erica Chamblee, as Bernadette, the passionate woman bent on finding her roots but also in breaking free from their chains. Last seen in Taffeta Punk's version of "The Trojan Women," she is a tour de force here, and on stage for the entire two hours, narrating when she isn't acting, and expressing herself through skillful motion as well. Her choreography, which she devised with Salvador Fawkes, includes not only bounding over the stage with her friend from the orphanage (Kevin Thorne) in a perfect approximation of childhood roughhousing, but also ending up in a headstand at one point.
Begun as a series of expressive blackouts by director Natalia Gleason, the story follows Bernadette at first confronting a gypsy woman she believes is her mother, and then moving backwards to her childhood in the orphanage, reliving the push and pull of someone who nearly adopted her, and her later life, freely independent as an adult working as a waitress in a bohemian restaurant.
Still, her origins haunt her and her task, learned from her one friend, is to extinguish it by turning around and shouting "Never!," which she believes would forever render her mother into stone.
Staged as a two character play when it was mounted in Chicago and off off Broadway at the La MaMa in New York five years ago, it's much more complex with the full cast of seven in D.C. that includes some with lovely singing voices, including Karoline Huber, Domonique Gay and Jesse Marciniak (the three of them also sing in different corners of the church basement as patrons find their way to the seating).
Thorne matches Chamblee's physicality as her childhood friend Clip. In addition to roles that include the laid back cafe owner, hulking Ivan Zizek mimes audience members as they are settling.
Rounding out the cast, Mediombo Singo Fofana is both accused of being a "light measurer" and has to wear high heels before the work is over.
"I Killed My Mother" is one of a series of plays about incarceration by Visky called the Barrack Dramaturgy that stem from his own childhood - raised in captivity when he was deported with his family to a gulag in the Baragan Plain in the late 1950s.
He brings that feeling of contained rootlessness to the impressionistic, emotional play that will linger in the viewer long after its completion.
Some of the best news is that the playwright, the Transylvanian Tennessee Williams himself, will attend all performances Sept. 23 and after to discuss the work afterwards - a third act worth catching.
While he is in town, the European Division of the Library of Congress will present his anthology "Barrack Dramaturgy" at a special event Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. at the Mary Pickford Theater in the Madison Building, 101-199 Independence Ave. SE.
Running time: Two hours with one 20 minute intermission.
Photo credit: Erica Chamblee and Kevin Thorne in "I Killed My Mother." Photo by Bryanda Minix.
"I Killed My Mother" continues through Sept. 30 at the Spooky Action Theatre performing at the Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St NW. Information available online.