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Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019)

Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019)
By Florian Zeller and Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Somewhere in France, or perhaps in England in the nineteenth century, a young married woman is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes after an evening meal. A dish slips from her hand, breaking I pieces as it hits the floor. The young woman begins to cry, sob really. Her husband not understanding any of this “odd behavior,” reaches out to the family physician who makes the diagnosis of hysteria and prescribes laudanum to “sedate” her. If the laudanum isn’t effective over time, this young woman – like many others of this time period – might be institutionalized for having “felt,” or “been sad,” or “not been a dutiful wife.”

Fast forward to the present somewhere in Manhattan, a middle-aged woman – married with two adult children no longer living at home – sits in her expansive living room in her even more expansive house all alone. This woman Anne (Isabelle Huppert) waits for her (probably) philandering husband Peter (Chris Noth) to come home, not to receive comfort from him, but to engage him in an ongoing battle of wits that reflect her desperation, her brokenness, her hope for reconciliation and release from deep depressive pain. But the only thing that could possibly offer surcease is the return to the nest of her son Nicolas (Justice Smith). In the first “act” of French playwright Florian Zeller’s “The Mother” currently playing in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company, Anne thinks she will get her wish when, in the middle of the night, Nicolas returns home after walking out on his current girlfriend Emily (Odessa Young).

As this scene plays repeatedly, just as things play repeatedly in Anne’s tortured psyche, the audience becomes aware of her manic-depressive disorder, her attempts to self-medicate, and her massive lode of rage that has festered in her since Nicolas and Emily have left home. But it is Nicolas’s absence that has caused the greatest pain for Anne. When he comes down for breakfast, shirt open, Anne caresses his bare chest, fondles and cuddles him to an obvious excess. The Oedipal juices are flowing.

As “The Mother” plays out, scene after scene – with scene/act changes indicated in projections on the back wall in French – Anne continues to give evidence of her shattered emotional state. This is not a woman we watch unravel, this is a woman who has already unraveled and the shrapnel from her dissolution has left mounds of detritus that have cluttered not only her life, but the lives around her. This clutter plays out in surreal and nonsensical scenes that mirror not only Anne’s warped weltanschauung, but the dysfunction of her husband, her son, and his girlfriend (or perhaps Emily is Peter’s girlfriend?) and how they have overtime contributed to her stark loneliness and persistent pain.

Unfortunately, Mr. Zeller’s script never even achieves the pathos of the young woman in the nineteenth century whose misdiagnosed “hysteria” plays out against the misogyny of the time. Ms. Huppert’s performance rarely reaches beyond the histrionic and her unbalanced command of the stage does not give the rest of cast opportunities to develop well-rounded characters. In short, while Mr. Zeller’s “The Father” is deeply cathartic, his “The Mother” comes off as pretentious, overstuffed, and devoid of ethos or pathos. The audience needs more substance and less weakly developed magical realism and surrealism.

THE MOTHER

“The Mother” features Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth, Justice Smith, and Odessa Young.

“The Mother” features scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design and original composition by Fitz Patton, projections by Lucy MacKinnon, and casting by Casting by Telsey + Company, William Cantler, CSA; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.

“The Mother” runs in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (336 West 20th Street) through Saturday April 13th, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon performances at 2:00 p.m. on 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10 and on Monday at 7:00 p.m. on 4/8. Tickets for “The Mother” begin at $70.00. Order online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 18, 2019