Motherhood Out Loud – Insomniac Theatre says the unsayable as we laugh. (Theatre review)

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Motherhood Out Loud

Insomniac Theatre (buy tickets here)

March 19 – April 6 2014

It seems at its surface, that we talk about parenting constantly, but like our perpetual discussion of sex, it is not so much quantity but quality that defines the value of the public discourse; Sometimes the endless conversation is there to mask rather than reveal. The politics of parenting is not something we like to think about, preferring child rearing to be a natural act, a free and easy thing born of love, that may be difficult but that is because all great projects are difficult and there is nothing as great, important or essential as the raising of a societies children. And yet, our relationship to parenting is heavily politicized and we do well to pause every now and then in the great blame game around day care, reproductive rights, way-ward teens and the apportioning of responsibilities between parents, state and schools to realize how much we hurt each other in society in our drive and push to “make things better” for our children. The homicidal bullying that goes on in every playground, something we casually see as a”natural” expression of our humble evolutionary origins, or an essential drive towards autonomy depending on your religious views, actually perfectly mirrors the way adults treat each other in society, particularly when engaged over that most precious of commodities, children. Children notice most the activities from which they are excluded, and it is these that become their definition of adulthood, that mysterious grasp for power all children can’t wait to make for themselves. We teach our kids the most by what we are keeping from them, or imagining we keep from them, and then stare in shock, or worse, intellectually justify, behaviors that should be seen as a mirror and examined.

Enter the clever world of Motherhood Out Loud, a series of monologues, written by fourteen writers, touching on the extremely funny and taboo areas of motherhood and parenting. Insomniac theatre have brought this wonderful production to Australia through six talented performers and two creatives, shown on the small stage at the very beautiful Exchange Hotel in Balamain in the warm intimacy of The Craftman’s Bar that provides the perfect atmosphere for a small groups night out. Motherhood Out Loud is one of those wonderful nights when you get together with some same-stage-of-life friends and you all have a meal, a drink and then a show that will make you laugh and cry together. It’s the after show drink, and the kind of conversation this show will evoke, that will make the evening a beautiful experience of engagement with like-minded friends. Motherhood Out Loud is a generous theatre experience that reminds us parenting is above all, a series of relationships and that the political should never be given as much dominance as we let it.

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Similar in style to The Vagina Monologues, Motherhood Out Loud begins where all life starts, at the screams of a mother in pain as she brings a child into the world. This is familiar territory, but we don’t mind hearing it again when the writing and performances are this good. We nod out head, the wit warming us into the comedy rhythms when a good writer and great actors illuminate an everyday experience into a place where we can examine it, recognize its absurdities, contradictions and strangeness. Certainly giving birth is all those things, with neither a claim to the spiritual joys nor the scientific facts making any of the process any clearer. But it is after these early monologues that Motherhood Out Loud comes into its own, particularly with a riveting performance of a Jewish woman’s tale of love for a son that wants to dress and Queen Esther in the synagogue’s pageant, and wear the blue Cinderella dress, even when his father insists on football in the back yard, and a gay man’s narrative about the process of becoming a father to a beautiful baby girl – a girl made special by the fact she has two fathers, no mother. We see the bitterness and ostracization human creatures are capable of in the playground as they judge each other though personal insecurity and the heartbreaking struggle as a man notices the early onset of Alzheimer’s in his mother, a woman in whom he so clearly sees himself. A Muslim woman thanks god for her period so that she can take a break from the difficulties of life, a mother of an autistic young man tries to help him navigate a hopeless first date,  and a child tries to confront her grandmothers piercing, witty cynicism. All of this beauty, sadness and hysterical joy is gently separated by tunes such as Cyndi Laupers ‘Girls just Wanna have Fun’ and The Belle Stars ‘The Clapping Song’. It makes for toe tapping fun, between moments of poignancy and witty pleasures.

Bridie Connell, Brooke Davidson and Amylea Griffin form the initial core of young mothers facing judging parents, loneliness and sleep deprivation. Each of them are talented, committed actors, fully immersed in each role they bring to the stage. They have their own styles and idiosyncracies that director Maggie Scott capitalised on, so that by the end of the evening, we feel as though we know the three young women intimately. They speak with a direct fervor, travelling easily from each different character to bring respect and generosity to each. As the conversation about parenting moves through time, they are joined by Andrew Mead, Jenny Jacob’s and director Maggie Scott who carry with them a mature wit and wisdom that posits nicely against the younger women’s calamitous comedy. The show takes a turn with their arrival into the realm of the deeply personal, and despite retaining the humour, tears of empathy and personal experience begin to flow in audience and actor alike. Each actor has their moment of deep connection, and it’s testament to their ability that the audience comes away from the production so deeply moved. Couple this with Jo Flanagan’s careful stage management (no mean feat on a tiny platform) and Maggie Scotts enveloping direction and you have a joyful night at the theatre to share with friends and family alike.

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