Review: You, My Mother

An opera piece looks at the mothering instinct.

You, My Mother at Ellen Stewart Theatre

You, My Mother at Ellen Stewart Theatre Photograph: Prudence Katze

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

An operatic project by Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf, You, My Mother is a dense and sometimes perplexing meditation on maternity. Early on, four characters—a mother, a daughter, a son and an "interior mother"—converse via a grid of tin-can telephones, their crossed wires suggesting miscommunication, umbilical cords, ties that bind and inextricable knots. Kristen Kosmas's text for the first part of the show includes thanks for the mothers of illustrious children—including Ellen Stewart, the late, founding matriarch of La MaMa; it's a nifty conceptual feedback loop.

The musical landscape, wrought with spellbinding virtuosity by new-music ensemble Yarn/Wire, calls on sounds and instruments from the domestic sphere: a carrot chopped on a piano's strings, high-heel shoes clacking and shuffling across a cookie sheet. Rick Burkhardt's nightmarish music incorporates drips and gurgles (amniotic fluid?), shrieks and what feels like the thudding of a terrified heart against ribs. Brendan Connelly's composition (a series of animal sequences culminating in "dawn") is less fraught and more lyrical. Vocalists Beth Griffith, Laryssa Husiak, Mike Mikos and Kate Soper perform superbly throughout.

For all the excellence of its performers, however, the overall piece lacks clarity. The words, often sung over roiling instrumentations, are hard to understand, and 80 continuous minutes of fever-pitch texts and edgy music can grow numbing. Director Brooke O'Harra's production ends with an owl (denoting wisdom or ill omen?) hovering over the silent stage. It's a fitting emblem for the ambivalent feelings that can flow between mothers and children.

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Ellen Stewart Theatre. Music by Rick Burkhardt and Brendan Connelly. Texts by Karinne Keithley Syers and Kristen Kosmas. Dir. Brooke O'Harra. With ensemble cast. 1hr 20mins. No intermission. See complete event information.