Review: Mother Teresa is Dead at Pacific Theatre
Something Pacific Theatre does exceedingly well is address big philosophical issues through stories about relatable events and individuals. Mother Teresa is Dead, a guest production by The Bleeding Heart Collective, raises a question that has surely occured to almost every Canadian: how can one claim to lead a good life, knowing there is so much poverty and suffering in the world?
The story revolves around Jane, a young woman from London who abandons her husband and son to work with children in India’s slums. The play opens when her husband, Mark, arrives in India to bring her home. Following a mysterious, traumatic incident, Jane has taken shelter at the home of an older British woman named Frances. The play’s action focuses around Mark arguing that Jane has a responsibility to her family back home, while Srivinas, who runs the shelter where Jane volunteered, tries to convince her to remain in India.
Playwright Helen Edumunson uses the scenario as an opportunity to explore the myriad of grey areas around philanthropy, western priviledge, and responsibility to family and community. There are no heroes or villains in the script, just a collection of flawed individuals who each try, in their own way, to live the best life they possibly can.
For this reason, no two audience members will experience the play in quite the same way. Some will condemn Jane as a bad mother because she left her son. Some will see Mark as a bully; others as a scared, pitiable man. A play causing such diversity of opinion is admirable: it stems from audience members exploring their personal thoughts and opinions about challenging issues.
Such a play requires immense sensitivity on the part of the director and performers; they must find a delicate balance in the story’s telling lest their own opinions and beliefs colour the work. Director Evan Frayne does an excellent job in this regard, leading his cast to performances fully guided by the characters’ desires and goals, avoiding any trace of preaching.
As Mark, Sebastian Kroon brings intensity and simplicity to the role. Possessing neither fuse nor guile, his performance is a series of angry, earnest impulses that play upon Jane’s motherly guilt. As object of his outbursts, Julie McIsaac plays a rich, complex, and deeply conflicted character. McIsaac initially appears as a pitiable victim, but soon shows Jane to be a creature of enormous empathy and intellect who, like certain Shakespearean heroes, has thought and felt herself into a prison of her own making.
Entangled with the tempestuous couple are Katharine Venour’s Frances and Kayvon Kelly’s Srivinas. Venour brings a soft-spoken gentleness to the role, painting the image of a woman who found peace in India, but just barely manages to keep hold of it. In a stand out turn, Kelly starts out all good-humoured wit and mannerisms before slyly revealing a dual nature.
Mother Teresa is Dead is a play that will challenge beliefs, provoke thoughts, and make most people feel guilty. While the last may sound unappealing, it is anything but, as Edmundson’s play quickly spins guilt into a great and surprising catalyst for personal introspection.