Vital and moving Secret Life of a Mother confounds, yet coheres

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

Photo of Maev Beaty by Kyle Purcell

Secret Life of a Mother, now playing at Crow’s Theatre, is the searingly personal account of writer Hannah Moscovitch’s experience of becoming a mother. The powerful one-woman show was written by Moscovitch with actor Maev Beaty (who is the one woman on stage) and Ann-Marie Kerr, and co-created with Marinda de Beer.

The show is difficult to describe – and I fear too much description risks blunting its impact, so I will be circumspect. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Secret Life of a Mother pulls back the curtain on messy, uncertain, uncomfortable and downright painful aspects of “modern motherhood” because, as the program notes, anything the creators saw or read as they were becoming mothers “felt like lies”. (Let me interject here by saying that I’m a father of three teenagers, and I learned a lot in this show). 

A simple description of Secret Life of a Mother might read like this. Writer Hannah Moscovitch has a 4-year-old son Elijah. She, Beaty and Kerr have documented the fears, the facts and the feelings of becoming a mother. Moscovitch is a television writer and a prolific, award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced across Canada and internationally. The accomplished and award-winning Beaty, who is a staple at Soulpepper and Stratford and a close personal friend of Moscovitch, plays the role of Moscovitch in the piece. The set is sparse: it consists of two tanks of water, a chair, the sheets of the script, and some evocative projection.

That’s the simple description. But though this is a one-woman show, it is anything but simple. For stretches in the show’s 5 Acts (which run a tidy 70 minutes), Beaty is Hannah Moscovitch, narrating and acting out remembered experiences in settings that range from airplanes to hotel rooms to hospitals. But at unexpected moments, she breaks the tension with the words, “Hi, it’s Maev here…” – and the point of view shifts. Maev the friend now gives insight into the mind of Maev, whom Hannah (or rather Maev playing Hannah) has just been talking about. Or Maev the self-aware actor cum host offers asides that prompt roars of audience laughter. Or reads script notes. Or solicits audience participation to bring some aspect of a situation to life.

And the experience of watching all this is . . . vital, urgent and wonderfully coherent. There are two main reasons: the unflinching honesty of the script and the vulnerable Baety’s aplomb in mediating between the show’s raw core and its self-referential structure. If you lay the elements of this play end-to-end and try to explain them in detail, they probably don’t add up – any more than Hannah’s insecurities, expectations and experiences make her rationally feel she can be a good mother. But as an integrated experience, this is a masterwork: intense, devastating, surprisingly funny, and a complete story that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

The show claims only to tell the secret life of “a” mother. Obviously, I can’t speak to how much of its focus is universal and how much is personal. But I will say I was riveted throughout, and I remain moved and grateful for this unexpected vantage point on a foundational, complex fact of female life.

Photo of Maev Beaty by Kyle Purcell

News You Can Use

What: Secret Life of a Mother, written by Hannah Moscovitch with Maev Beaty and Ann-Marie Kerr | Co-created with Marinda De Beer | Producer for The Theatre Centre: Aislinn Rose| Scenic Design: Camellia Koo |Lighting Design: Leigh Ann Vardy |Associate Lighting Design: Kaleigh Krysztofiak|Projection: Cameron Davis|Sound Design: Debashis Sinha| Costume Design: Erika Connor|Developed in residency at The Theatre Centre |a SLOM Collective and The Theatre Centre co-production, presented by Crow’s Theatre | Directed by Ann-Marie Kerr

Performed by Maev Beaty

When: On stage until February 23, 2020

Where: Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: crowstheatre.com 

© Scott Sneddon, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2020

Posted in Theatre and tagged , , , .

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