Found Space Theatre tackles tough issues with Two Mothers Speak: Memoirs of a Passion
If you had a baby, would you expect to be able to keep her? See her? Have a say in who will raise her? Who decides which mommas in the delivery room get to keep their children and who will be sent to endless rounds of parenting classes in order to get any access to their own child? In Two Mothers Speak: Memoirs of a Passion, a baby is the battleground. Her fate is decided in a maelstrom of race, privilege, mental illness, good intentions and a messed-up system that is trying its best to protect children and families.
Agnes (Emily Hart) is a good person, a deeply committed social worker, mother and wife. A willing foster parent to needy teens and a safe friend for battered women, she overreaches and begins a dark journey in an attempt to help a child have a better life; she adopts the baby of a mentally unstable woman.
Sonya (Samira Lobby) has had every disadvantage the world can throw at a person: abusive parents, damaging experimental drug therapy, years on and off the streets, and now she has a baby. The state places that baby in the care of a white woman, against Sonya’s wishes.
This all makes for fascinating, complicated drama because no one knows what will, or even should happen. The contrast of the two characters is echoed in their casting. Hart has worked with nearly every theater in town over the last few decades. She is an experienced, passionate and mature actress, and is perfectly cast as Agnes. You put Hart on stage and she knows what she’s doing; give the character of Agnes a baby and she’s got a plan. By contrast, this is Lobby’s first play. Lobby’s charm and freedom as Sonya adds to the dilemma of this complex story.
Hart adapted Two Mothers from an autobiographical novella by local writer and theater artist Judith McKenzie. This is clearly Agnes’ story. Sonya is given a sympathetic voice, but audience members will have an easier time identifying with the bedraggled, do-gooding Agnes than the angry, system-working Sonya. Hart does a masterful job of threading out a play of duel monologues that examine the same issues. The passions of the two women swirl across the stage, occasionally bringing the women together for a scene as brief as a kiss, then sweeping them back into their own tellings of the shared story. Staged as a dramatic reading with minimal set, Two Mothers is more storytelling than a shiny theatrical production.
The strongest aspect of Two Mothers is that the play is respectfully unresolved. Both characters are flawed and loving. Any parent, or anyone who has ever been around parents, can feel the rage of Agnes as she is confronted with a sheet of paper from the state, tiny rectangles of categories attempting to rate a woman’s ability to parent. When exploring the primal question of what it means to be a mother, there are no easy answers. — Anna Grace
Two Mothers Speak: Memoirs of a Passion runs 8 pm Friday and Saturday, Sept. 6-7, at Lane Community College’s Blue Door Theatre.