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I Hate You My Mother

Photo by Rupert Reid

Real Harpy, White Box Theatre in Association with Red Line Productions present, I HATE YOU MY MOTHER, by Jeanette Cronin, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St. Woolloomooloo, 24 January – 11 February.

I HATE YOU MY MOTHER, is a new play by Jeanette Cronin. Ms Cronin is well loved and respected as an actor, especially, in Sydney. In 2014, Ms Cronin presented her first play as a writer: TELL ME AGAIN, which was followed up a year later with QUEEN BETTE. I enjoyed them very much. In each Ms Cronin also starred. Her third play, I LOVE YOU NOW, is part of the Darlinghurst Theatre season, later, this year.

I HATE YOU MY MOTHER, is made up of four revolving scenarios stemming from four different locations, time in history,  and characters. In each scenario there are only two characters and Ms Cronin and Simon Glømmen Bostad juggle dialect and different individuals in each.

Ms Cronin in her Writer’s Notes:

Throughout our known history, child sexual abuse has somehow been able to hide in plain sight. Why is something, so publicly reviled, so privately tolerated? How has it remained entrenched in our schools, churches and families for so long? Is it just Nature’s crooked way? The order of things? A privilege of the stronger?

To begin any play with a disembodied voice is asking for audience comprehension difficulties. We as a species, take some time to focus our hearing, our animal instincts (our flight or fight primalities) unconsciously, defensively, looking for where the sound (the noise) is coming from causes delay in comprehending what the noise is, and then in tuning in to hear it. In the case of I HATE YOU MY MOTHER not only is this how we are introduced to this play – a pre-recorded voice – but it is in a heightened ‘poetic’ language form and is very, very long – it stayed a garbled noise. Whatever was said was hardly comprehensible – the audience was disengaged, put-off, right from the start.

The subsequent writing, that which I could decipher during the performance, seems to have a similar admirable ‘literary’ quality, which pursues a constructed image of ‘people’ over four episodes, with a genetically inherited oddity of webbed feet! – perhaps, the symbolic DNA of a child-abuse gene, carried through history, “Nature’s crooked way”? I thought, later. I am not sure whether the writing is confused, or if it is the performances that are drawn under the guidance of Director, Kim Hardwick, that are not adequate enough to communicate with clarity as to what is going on, either in the dimension of the literal in-the-moment storytelling or in the metaphoric framework.

Ms Cronin playing the characters she has written for herself has a passion of commitment and seems to know exactly what she is saying, where she is, and why she is doing and saying what her women need to communicate. The problem is that the performer’s energies are driven from an intelligence of knowing coloured by a ‘dam-busted’ emotional inspiration that obliterates the information in her lines (text) and, instead, delivers an overwhelming ‘demonstration’ of emotional states. We can see each of her women are emotionally charged, its just we cannot hear with clarity what they are saying, and so are unable to understand why what is happening is happening. It lacks objective control.

Mr Bostad handles his four tasks with some vocal skill, but with not much verbal insight. Essentially all four of his creations have a two-dimensional shallowness – he speaks the words and there is an intellectual emotional identity but there is no engaged sub-text, no motivation going on, no real ‘life-force’ of character, all we are given is the actor at work. There is, oddly, a relaxed rapport (maybe, a respectful physical one), between the players, but no real communication. Certainly, no real agreed clarity of what they are communicating to the audience beat-by-beat, together.

Instead of the audience having a “plain sight” of the issues Ms Cronin as writer and actor wishes us to share, the experience in the theatre becomes more and more opaque as the 65 minutes of the performance unwinds. It is a puzzlement that we take with us as we leave the space, and a relief from the overwhelming emotions.

Ms Hardwick recently Directed in this same space, THE SHADOW BOX, and with her, then, Design collaborators created a felicitous visual space. She does so again here, this Set Design, by Tyler Ray Hawkins – a black box wall surround with black reflective floor with appropriate furnishings and properties, has an art-installation abstracted symmetrical use of bars of fluorescent lighting to create a visual flare of distraction, accompanied by a contrast of the warmth of the beauty of the ‘space’ Lighting by Martin Kinnane. The Costume, also by Mr Hawkins, of elegant black and white detail and a simple modernity serves for both actors all the time leaps of the play, and matches the physical look of the set with a kind of immaculate pleasure. There is Sound Design by Nate Edmondson, too. The design elements are the most interesting aspects of this experience and is obviously a strong aesthetic inclination in Ms Hardwick’s Directorial quiver.

I HATE YOU MY MOTHER, does not have the clarity of purpose that the other work by this Australian writer/actor has had for me.