I Killed My Mother



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HARD-KNOCK LIFE Hawkins, left, and Livingston contemplate the void.

HARD-KNOCK LIFE Hawkins, left, and Livingston contemplate the void. Photograph: Anthony Churchill


Though inspired by the true story of a Romanian orphan, Visky’s new play is less concerned with “Ceausescu’s children”—the abandoned generation born of a disastrous anti-contraception policy, intended to swell the Romanian workforce—than the metaphoric orphanhood binding (and dividing) everyone. While a criminal case study, it argues, the institutional neglect of Bernadette (Hawkins) is also a gift, releasing her from illusions of interdependence and forging her into an emblem of self-reliance. All of us, God included, are ultimately orphans, and this truth can set us free.

It’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the Randian overtones or existential masochism of the thesis. But Hungarian playwright-poet Visky’s expressionist response to parentless hardship does things no docudrama could. Couching Bernadette’s spiritual progress as an ongoing dialogue with Clip (Livingston)—first as mentor/playmate/protector then internalized voice—the play explodes into a full-on dramatic poem, unfolding one epiphany after another. The deceptive simplicity of Visky’s muscular, elegant voice (with much credit due to Alisha O’Sullivan’s translation) opens up the stage for complete actors such as Hawkins and Livingston. Under Coonrod’s precise direction, they utterly physicalize their performances, delivering the immediate goods. Their flirtations with tricky diction and music likewise leave nothing to be desired. And despite the determinedly inward, abstract spiral of the script, its judicious forays into horrifying narrative curl out perfectly in their hands.

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