nytheatre.com review by Brad Lee Thomason
August 14, 2009
I absolutely love it when plays feature animals that are portrayed by actors. There is just something utterly charming about watching a person mimic the behavior of a pet, and the two actors who have an opportunity to do this in The Motherline both do a delightful job, bringing some real comic life into what turns out to be quite a touching and poignant family drama.
The story centers on Claire, an unborn soul floating in the nether-where hoping to be born before her time is up and she disappears. However, Claire is also quite a demanding little soul, and not just any mother will do: she is absolutely determined to be born to a young lesbian artist named Holly, who obviously has no future plans of ever having the necessary heterosexual intercourse to bring Claire into the world, presenting quite an obstacle for Claire's manifestation as Holly's daughter.
To get around this, Claire strikes a bargain with Holly's cat Minou (played cheerfully by Connor Moore) who has been listening to Buddhist philosophy on tape and agrees to give up one of his lives so that he and Claire trade places, which will in turn help his own karma. It's quite a sacrifice for the feline; there's no catnip up in the ether, and certainly none of the food that Claire promised him. Meanwhile, Claire, who is now a cat, does everything she can to influence Holly's necessary pregnancy but it's not easy: in this world cats can talk to souls, and souls can communicate with people, but unfortunately cats still can't talk to humans. If it sounds crazy, that's because it is; but playwright Chantal Bilodeau somehow managed to wrangle me into a universe where I believe unborn souls can choose their own mothers and cats can take up Buddhism. It's rather remarkable, really.
On the other side of this story is a painful and emotional tale of familial reconciliation where both Holly and her lover Rhiza struggle to find their roots. Holly is adopted and seeking out her true birth mother, while Rhiza is dealing with her abusive mother's death and estrangement from her musician brother Moss, who also happens to be a good friend of Holly's. The versatile Kate Metroka, who won me over with a sweet portrayal of Claire as a cat and a soul, shows a completely different side in a short scene as the cold and embittered birth mother to Holly. Erica Dorfler as Holly and Becca Kutte as Rhiza both give heartfelt portrayals and are very believable as a same-sex couple; and Matt Mickenberg made me really root for the character of Moss with his sincere performance.
The transition from soul to cat and vice versa is done with the clever appliance of costumes designed by Michiko Kitayama Skinner and lights designed by Robert Perry. The sound design and original music by David Stephen Baker are excellent, and particularly stands out whenever Moss is playing his upright bass. The staging by Jennifer Vellenga and scenery by April Soroko are simple and effective and serve the story well.
The postcard for this play tells us that it's about an unborn soul, lesbian mothers, and a Buddhist cat; but The Motherline actually holds a loftier, more sentimental message: this is a play about family obligations, finding your generational roots, and the human relationships and love between them that finally ground us all.