Venue: Gleebooks (Glebe NSW), Mar 7 & 14, 2015
Playwright: Rivka Hartman
Director: Rivka Hartman
Cast: Florette Cohen, John Grinston, Elaine Hudson, Taylor Owynns, Anne Tenney, Madeleine Withington
This staged reading of Rivka Hartman’s My Mother And Other Catastrophes is deeply revelatory of Hartman’s inner world, with several broad themes brought into focus through the filter of personal and lived experience. Hartman discusses the Jewish diaspora from an Australian perspective, the inter-generational transference of tradition through motherhood, and the karmic effects of catastrophes that seem to endure an eternity. The play does not break new ground, but it is in the nature of storytelling that what remains relevant, will always resurface. Where suffering remains, old stories never fade, although they may take on new forms, morphing with the times. Hartman’s script is not quite feminist theatre of the militant variety, but it certainly features strong and interesting women expressing their vulnerabilities, flaws and triumphs.
The structure of the work is swift and sharp, never overly self indulgent. Its anti-chronological timeline keeps things unpredictable and engaging, and encourages rumination about the evolutionary, as well as the repetitive, nature of how people live. We question what it means to be free, even though the script is not convincingly optimistic. Hatman’s words are charming and witty, but there is little variance between characters to create distinctions in speech styles and patterns. They seem to share one voice, which is reasonable for a show about one family, but more dramatic effect might be achieved if each character’s use of language demonstrates greater juxtaposition with each other.
Creative work exploring the Holocaust rarely provide new insights, but they are almost always poignant. Hartman creates vivid and emotional imagery from her stage directions, narrated by Taylor Owynns, and also through the lines of 117 year old survivor Gitl, performed with extraordinary gravity by Elaine Hudson. Indeed, the dark side of My Mother And Other Catastrophes is captivating, because its universality allows us to connect with it almost spontaneously, but its comedy is less compelling. It truly is a significant thing, to find humour when days are tough, and it is the belief that laughter can exist no matter how dire the circumstance, that helps keep our humanity perpetuating.