In the Shadow of My Son
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 11, 2007
Nadine Bernard's new play, In the Shadow of My Son, is an earnest look at the effects of postpartum depression on new mothers. This chronicle of three different women's struggles with this phenomenon gets a good production overall despite a script that quickly gets stuck in a rut it can't find its way out of.
The three women are Tristyn, who misses the carefree days of her youth; Dolores, who rages against the indifferent way her doctors treat her during her delivery; and Leah, who frantically sticks to a prescribed daily routine in order to keep control of her new motherhood. None of them is prepared for the drastic changes that come with parenthood. At the beginning of the play, they collectively announce that they put their personalities away in a box when their children were born and didn't take them out again for a number of years. Leah goes one step further by revealing that "the greatest gift was taken from me" when her child arrived: "the gift of feeling joy." As the story progresses, Tristyn loses her sparkle, Dolores's body goes to pot, and Leah's grip on reality loosens—all symptoms of PPD, which, according to Bernard, affects "30 to 50 percent of all mothers."
Bernard, who also serves as the show's director, adds some nice touches to the production. The set design—which is dominated by a trio of life-size dollhouses and numerous alphabet blocks—serves the play's theme of these women feeling trapped by their maternal obligations. The fake Stepford Wife smiles the characters plaster onto their faces when talking to each other nicely counter their inner torment. And a structural framing device—a faux TV talk show that caters to new moms, hosted by a pair of plucky women humorously named Earth Mother and Rainbow Mom—lends the production some much-needed lightness in several instances.
However, In the Shadow of My Son makes its point so early on (within the first 15 minutes, by my estimation) that it has trouble sustaining itself for the remainder of its 80-minute running time. The play's stance that PPD is a condition that needs to be talked about more openly and taken more seriously is crystal clear, but it never advances dramatically past that, thus making the whole thing more like an educational film than anything else. In addition, the play grows relentlessly bleaker as each woman slips down her respective rabbit hole, punctuating its sameness more acutely.
Cast members Wendy Baron, Alexandra Gilman, Brooke Lucas, Mavis Martin, and Bernard herself all do a nice job, and Bernard directs with a confident hand. This subject clearly means a lot to her, and I think she could be on to something with more variety of story and conflict. As it stands now, though, In the Shadow of My Son drives its point home so often that the audience stops learning long before the show is over.