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The Word Progress on My Mother’s Lips Doesn’t Ring True at Trap Door Theatre | Theater review

Matei Visniec’s portrait of postwar grief feels fortuitously timed to our nation’s polarized state.

Photograph: Michal Janicki
The Word Progress on My Mother's Lips Doesn't Ring True at Trap Door Theatre

Last year, former President Jimmy Carter asserted that America is as polarized as it’s been since the Civil War—and, perhaps an overstatement, possibly even more so. That sentiment’s since been echoed nationwide by a chorus of politicians and pundits, from California Gov. Jerry Brown to journalism icon Tom Brokaw. So Romanian-born Matei Visniec’s long-titled short play, inspired by the Yugoslavian conflicts of the ’90s, feels both fitting and foreboding in Trap Door Theatre’s well-timed production.

Visniec’s absurdist piece deals with the singular homecoming known only to those who’ve survived the chaos of a domestic war by fleeing as refugees. Having lost a son, an expatriate husband and wife return to their charred house and adjust to life alongside new neighbors and under a new reign. Haunted by grief without closure, the parents set out to find and properly bury their boy; it’s a difficult task in what Visniec richly and poetically suggests is a nation built on a bed of foreign bones.

Progress resides in a difficult valley between realism and absurdism, played out on a visually compelling but often distracting set designed by Mike Mroch. Guest director István Szabó K. creates a cerebral experience that lacks the emotional punch its scenes of bereavement seem to drive at.

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