The pressures of being The Mothers

A note about my personal involvement with this play before you start reading: I am on the board of SkirtsAfire HerArts Festival, which is presenting The Mothers by Nicole Moeller as part of the 2015 festival.

Forget what you know about playwright Nicole Moeller’s work – her latest play, The Mothers, is a departure from what she’s done previously, especially from her 2011 play, An Almost Perfect Thing. In the plays Nicole’s written in the past, her work tended to have more characters and left her with more freedom to move the story from place to place. The Mothers on the other hand, is a one woman show that takes place as a mother tries to come to terms with the violent act her son has committed (the nature of which Nicole wants to reveal during the play) during a sleepless night of questions and memories in his former bedroom. The Mothers runs February 26 – March 8 and is presented as part of the 2015 SkirtsAfire HerArts Festival.

“One of the hardest things [about writing The Mothers] was because it’s my first full-length one-person show and it’s my first time putting someone in one location in one time… Not only the content is challenging, but how do you tell the story and make it dramatically interesting? It was totally out of my comfort zone… I started [The Mothers] at the Citadel Theatre’s Playwright’s Forum group and when I brought in the first draft it had a million characters and was all over different locations… so as an exercise I thought ‘Okay, I’m just going to let the characters speak,’ and that became the play.”

Over the course of the play’s development, the characters eventually whittled down to just one: the mother. Nicole says, “On a surface level it’s about a mother whose son has committed a crime and she’s trying to figure out why and what is her culpability in it and how to move forward. For me, the biggest thing in it is about how you move forward from the things you can’t control. Whether it’s something that’s already happened or someone else’s actions, how do you continue to keep living? That’s what’s fascinating to me.”

Inspiration for The Mothers hit Nicole at a reading of Judith Thompson’s Palace of the End. “There’s a character [in Palace of the End] who represents Lynndie England, who is a solider who tortured prisoners in Iraq, and all of the sudden it struck me: ‘Who is her mother?’ and how horrified she must be by her daughter’s actions. And then that got me thinking: who are the mothers of these people who we read about and kind of write off? Who are the mothers? What are they going through? And how are they possibly dealing with this?”

Being on the board of SkirtsAfire, I had the opportunity to read an early draft of The Mothers and so I brought up with Nicole that the questions the mother in the play asks herself remind me of the saying ‘didn’t your mother teach you any manners?’ And the corresponding idea that seems to still be ingrained in the way we talk judge other people: it’s mothers who are responsible for raising children, in spite of so many families where the primary caregiver is not the mother. Nicole hesitantly agrees with me, “I hate to say we look at the mothers first and we put more responsibility on the mothers, I guess that’s a scary statement to make, but I do kind of feel that way. You do think of the mothers first and I think that it’s not just maybe society that puts that pressure on the mothers, but the mothers that put that pressure on themselves… I think it’s interesting in how much it is society putting it on to [the main character of the play] but how much it is her putting it on to herself. That’s interesting to me too: even if people forgive you, how do you forgive yourself? And do you have anything to forgive yourself for?”

The Motherswritten by Nicole Moeller, is presented as part of the SkirtsAfire HerArts Festival and runs February 26 – March 8 at the Alberta Avenue Community League (9210 – 118 Avenue). For performances February 26 – March 5 tickets are $15 – $20. Tickets for performances during the SkirtsAfire Festival, March 5 – 8, are by donation on a first-come-first-served basis.

There will be a panel discussion on violence in schools, teen mental health, and bullying March 3 following the show.

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