I Killed My Mother
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
February 10, 2012
I Killed My Mother by Romanian playwright Andras Visky is presented at La MaMa by Chicago’s Theatre Y, which will subsequently take the play on tour to Serbia and beyond.
This haunting, non-linear story begins when Bernadette has come back to a village in Transylvania with the intention of killing her mother.
It is revenge, but for what?
(By the way, as the region of Transylvania was ruled by Hungary until 1918 the characters in the play are mainly ethnic Hungarians as well as Roma (a.k.a. gypsies) who often live impoverished, rootless lives.)
The rest of the play is flashbacks, starting with a squalid school for unwanted children, where Bernadette and a young boy are being disciplined by wearing clips on their tongues. She nicknames the boy "Clip." Amid their sadness, they find a way to communicate and share happiness at being alive. This is often conveyed through ballads and ecstatic dancing. They joyfully journey together on their quest; they will hurt Bernadette's mother for exposing her to such experiences. After sharing the sum-total of their misfortunes—including girl-gang fights in reform school, from which came a special scar—Bernadette and Clip are able to confront the destitute, drunken mother, who, not recognizing her daughter, begs her for money. Can punishment make any impression in this case? The story ends with an exhortation from the book of Leviticus: "Nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger...for you were wanderers in the land of Egypt."
The world of this story is bleak, as is Peter Ksander's set and lighting design. Yet, in this empty space with bricks scattered about the edges, the characters have the potential to express their deepest desires. Happiness and anger are highlighted by colored spotlights. Andrew Hampton Livingston's original music makes the audience catch its collective breath, while Melissa Lorraine Hawkins as Bernadette skillfully shows how an innocent and happy young girl can become so angry and vengeful. Oana Botez Ban's costumes, too, show how these characters have nothing in this world but themselves. All these elements together imply that "ordinary" people will take any opportunity to violently abuse others in an endless cycle. Let it be a warning.