Written and performed by Melinda Buckley.
Presented as Originally Directed by Kimberly Senior.
Produced by The Greenhouse Theater Center.
One-Person Show Perfectly Captures Two Peoples’ Relationship.
While reviewing the last limited engagement in the Greenhouse Theatre’s Solo Celebration, Squeeze My Cans, I noted the importance of humor when a performer is introducing an audience to the tragedies and struggles in their own life. That was true for one woman’s journey into and out of Scientology, and it’s even more true for Mother (and me), a story by choreographer Melinda Buckley about losing her mother to dementia. Buckley is a lithe and energetic performer, doubtlessly due to her years as a Broadway dancer, but still begins the show by saying that getting married for the first time at forty-five was like finishing a marathon: everyone goes home early and there are smashed Dixie cups everywhere. That she reached this milestone in life at such a late age was in large part due to her co-dependent relationship with her mother, and over the course of a ninety minute show in which she embodies dozens of characters, Buckley guides us through a journey millions of other Americans have been through or fearfully anticipate.
Buckley’s mother, Eileen, had a difficult life. Buckley wants to make that very clear from the offset, because Eileen, we are about to see, was also a very difficult person, so it’s fair to provide some explanation for her behavior. Eileen was a Hungarian who married a GI after World War II basically out of desperation following her rejection from a convent. The man turned out to be an alcoholic and a gambler, and their marriage didn’t last, leaving Eileen, her kids, and various other relatives in a poor New England town. Still, Eileen made things work, with an attitude Buckley describes as similar to Mama Rose’s in Gypsy. In fact, it was hard to tell when she was developing dementia, because symptoms like paranoia, aggression, incoherence, impulsivity, and indifference to social standards were all part of Eileen’s normal personality. Her denial immediately put an enormous strain on Buckley’s hard-won marriage.
Getting power of attorney was difficult, but once Eileen was legally under control, she and Buckley’s relationship became much less antagonistic. Buckley’s attention shifted to finding adequate care for Eileen and visiting her often enough, while maintaining the difficult life of a performer several hours away. Throughout the play, many of the audience members in middle age made audible sounds of recognition and sympathy. Buckley emphasizes the particular twists of her family’s story, but it’s one many people recognize, even if their parents and grandparents are still cogent. As for the humor, it’s sardonic and very dark, and serves as a reflection of our own fears (“Oh, there’s that job LinkedIn emailed me about,” Buckley mutters, during one stretch of near-penury). Mother (and me) also references good things from the central relationship, including things that happened as a result of Eileen’s dementia. Through it all, Buckley demonstrates great flexibility as an actress, using only changes in voice and posture to transform into Eileen, her brother, nursing home staff, and many other people who are portrayed with slight exaggeration, but with the proper amount of nuance for their place in the story. Kimberly Senior’s direction remains engaging even a few years after the show’s premiere, proving that Buckley and her production crew have gone to great effort to maintain it. They’ve done well to do so; Mother (and me) is an ideal portrayal of the parent-child relationship over a lifetime.
Reviewed August 4, 2016.
For more information, see Mother (and me)’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25-30; to order, call 773-404-7336 or visit greenhousetheater.org. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Running time is ninety minutes with no intermission.