Reviews - Fringe 2014

Fringe Review: Mommy's Mask

By Anne Bokma
Published July 21, 2014

I've been in the audience of award-winning local playwright Peter Gruner's plays before - most notably the emotionally ripping mother-daughter drama, Minced, which premiered at the Fringe a couple of years ago - so I knew enough to pack the Kleenex.

I figured I'd need it for this one, considering the play focuses on how parents, specifically a mother, Kathy, deals with the unexplained abduction of her five year-old daughter.

I didn't shed a tear, but that was likely Gruner's intent. While the subject matter may be harrowing, with plenty of potential to exploit a mother's despair, Gruner chooses a different tack, focusing instead on how Kathy begins to heal from her astounding loss by taking, of all, things, a mask-making class.

We see Kathy at various intervals, a few weeks and then a few months after her daughter's disappearance. Neighbours - and even her husband - judge her for leaving her daughter alone to play for a few minutes in the yard, but not as harshly as she judges herself.

She becomes more and more absorbed in the mask-making class, where she and fellow students become mesmerized by a charismatic leader who urges them to tap into the invisible energy that will allow their masks to turn them into someone else.

When Kathy dons her mask she begins to sense a powerful psychic connection to her daughter, Lizzie, a connection that confounds her husband Tom (played by an emotionally wrought and riveting A.J. Haygarth) and creates a distance between them.

Gruner is tackling challenging territory here, asking the audience to accept Kathy's belief in the special powers of the mask.

On the one hand, it's perfectly understandable how a desperate mother could will herself to believe in just about anything in an effort to feel her lost daughter's presence once again. On the other, the premise may need more fine-tuning in order to help us understand Kathy's new reality.

As harrowing as it is to hear Lizzie's plaintive child's voice in the handful of scenes in which she appears, featuring this voice more prominently may be one way for the tragedy that is at the heart of this story to resonate more profoundly with the audience.

Anne Bokma is an award-winning journalist in Hamilton. She writes the "Spiritual But Secular" monthly column for the United Church Observer, reporting on the spiritual practices of the growing spiritual-but-not-religious demographic. Her blog, "My Year of Living Spiritually," is hosted on the Observer website.

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By Ray (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2014 at 18:44:37

This is a fair review. The play fails to persuade us of the gravity of their loss and the actors seemed to strain in their efforts to persuade us that the loss of a child was anguishing. It was difficult for me to get inside the action. Fractional scenes made it seem that Gruner may have had a film, rather than a play, in mind.

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