How do you play mother to a boy who has committed a serious crime? And what’s the limit to a mother’s love?
These are the central questions that Evan Placey’s debut play, written in 2010, revolves around. Set during a period of eight days over Hanukkah, Mother of Him centres on a mother (Brenda) trying to come to terms with what her son 17-year old Matthew (Scott Folan) has done. Throughout the play, the family’s home is besieged by Toronto’s media who have set up camp outside the house.
Mum Brenda is brilliantly played in varying degrees of cool and calm, sardonic, and then all-out fury and resignation by Tracy Ann Oberman. Her youngest child, Jason, is a picture of innocence and childhood delight. He’s appreciative of his Hanukkah presents and Placey’s dialogue is brilliantly realistic, evoking the randomness of an eight-year-old child. Matt Goldberg, who plays Jason on press night, has a phenomenal energy and spark, and along with Oberman, carries much of the play’s pace on his shoulders.
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Brenda’s other child, Matthew, is conspicuously absent from the start of the play. He’s referred to by the rest of the family, but he only appears as a ghostlike apparition initially, which suggests the doom-laden future of this boy, who transforms from a hoody wearing child to a suit-clad young man.
What’s refreshing is that there’s little assumption that Matthew is innocent. He admits to his guilt, and the audience watches on tenterhooks as this openness challenges his mother to keep defending him. This is a play about his mother, rather than about the crime’s perpetrator. When Brenda talks about meeting the mother of one of the girls her son attacked in the supermarket, she says: “She lost a part of her daughter that night, and I lost a part of my son. Hold on as tight as you like, but one way or another they all slip away.”
The standout element of this production of Mother of Him is undoubtedly the set, designed by Lee Newby. The completely grey colour palate mirrors a gaol cell, one that’s already closing in on the family even before Matthew is sentenced. The grid stripes are mesmerising, especially as the set changes by moving tetris-style blocks around the stage, giving the impression that we’re in a game being played in an area that’s gradually shrinking.
That said, it can feel at times that the audience is unsure where our sympathies should lie. With the exhausted mother, certainly, but it feels at times that writer Evan Placey is unsure about where he wants us to direct the tension in the room. There are some other raw moments with the script, too. The supporting characters, in particular Steven, Brenda’s ex-husband, feel two-dimensional. And, although both halves are pacy and keep the audience gripped as new threads unravel, nothing would be lost if the interval was scrapped and the play shortened by twenty minutes.
Regardless, Mother of Him is a fast-paced microscope on a mother’s world turned upside down. There’s no doubt that everyone in the audience is catapulted into the action, questioning how we would react if we were faced with the same situation. And that’s where the strength of this play lies – we feel, we empathise, and we fear.
Mother of Him runs at the Park Theatre until October 26.
Words by Eleanor Ross. Photos by Helen Maybanks.