My Mother’s Story: North Vancouver is lovely on its own terms
Created by Marilyn Norry and Jenn Griffin. From stories by Esther Chase, Sandra Crawford, Janice George, Meghna Haldar, Suzanne Humphreys, Wendy Noel, Suzanne Ristic, and Beate Sigriddaughter. A Presentation House Theatre production. Directed by Heidi Specht. At Presentation House on Thursday, October 18. Continues until October 28
Nobody is ordinary. Everybody is struggling. And if you know enough about those struggles, you will feel—at the least—compassion. That understanding is one of the gifts that theatre keeps giving. And it’s a gift that’s especially apparent in My Mother’s Story: North Vancouver. The show is generous. It also handicaps itself with its structure.
To create My Mother’s Story, Marilyn Norry and Jenn Griffin asked women to submit up to 2,000 words about the lives of their mothers, who lived in North Van. From 60 submissions, eight portraits were chosen. Then Norry and Griffin interviewed the writers and recorded their responses to flesh out the script. Two of those writers, who are also actors—Wendy Noel and Suzanne Ristic—appear as themselves. Everybody else is taking on a character.
A lot of the material is fantastic. Ristic’s Macedonia-born mother is comic gold. Ristic remembers being a teenager, depressed by what she considered to be the excessive size of her breasts. Her mom reassured her, “Don’t worry, Suzie. When you get older, the boys will massage them and they will shrink.” Beate Sigriddaughter (subtly performed by Eileen Barrett) remembers that her mother, who was on the losing side of World War II, rarely spoke her mind. “Study other women,” Sigriddaugther’s mom said. “Put the fragments together to know me.” And Noel draws a hilarious, touching portrait of her relationship with her mom, who smoked dope and dropped acid in the pursuit of personal growth, leaving Noel feeling short on rebellious options—and scared.
For me, the hard part about watching this show is that it’s largely a collection of fragments—shards of imagery and information. With eight women on-stage, I struggled to get a grip on the characters at first. And, even as the evening progressed, I longed for fuller portraits and a greater sense of accumulation. Norry and Griffin have arranged the material according to subject: mom’s background, mom’s romance, mother-daughter sex ed. And the structure is musical: images repeat and there’s a lot of simultaneous speech. This is all fine but, many times, I wanted the actors to tell me a good, solid—extended—tale.
Still, My Mother’s Story is lovely on its own terms. Director Heidi Specht has created a striking choreographic vocabulary based on gestures. Jamie Nesbitt’s set, in which shelved objects are wrapped in grey cloth, speaks quietly to the notion of memory. The eight-member acting team is terrific. And many passages are touching. When I saw this show, there was laughter, but there were also gasps and moans of recognition from the audience—and plenty of tears.