— Photo by Emily Cooper. Pictured: Kayvon Kelly and Katharine Venour.
MOTHER TERESA IS DEAD
It can happen. Some people do suddenly drop their private, family lives and go to India to help the poor. It’s what has happened six weeks prior to the onset of Mother Teresa Is Dead, a quartet talkfest about how to live morally and responsibly in an imperfect and disturbing world.
Jane has left her husband and young son in England without giving them any notice of where she is going or why; she simply disappears. Her ultra-conventional and racist husband hurries off to Madras as soon as an English woman in India, Frances, informs him of Jane’s whereabouts. Jane has become mentally unstable, stunned, crying and clutching a plastic bag. She refuses to allow anyone to see its contents. The nature of her trauma is a mystery—only to be revealed after two hours.
Jane has been working in a care facility run by the articulate, self-confident, Oxford-educated Srinivas, an Indian who, one supposes, has, or has had, intimate relations with Frances. When the distraught, fish-out-of-water Brit husband arrives by taxi to Frances’ country home, eager to retrieve his wife, Srinivas barely masks his contempt for the simple-minded Mark. All the action of the play occurs in the home of Frances among these four characters.
Mark confronts Jane. Are you a bad mother? She holds her ground, trusting some altruistic instinct that goes deeper than maternity. Frances sees Jane share a kiss with Srinivas. Is she jealous? Srinivas and Mark have a wrestling bout, solving nothing. Is the wife going to go back to England or not?
The English husband, his estranged wife and the well-spoken Srinivas are not particularly likeable people; all three are essentially full of themselves. Our eyes prefer to rest on their hostess Frances who, as played by Katharine Venour, is full of conciliatory grace. Her trio of guests are all bound by different forms of arrogance—even the deranged do-gooder Jane, a character that might have been more attractive to us if the playwright had managed to give her a personality. Venour, in contrast, doesn’t over-play her role; her subtle manner is the antidote to Mark’s one-note anger, Jane’s dazed blankness and Srinivas’ perpetual self-satisfaction.
These four people have been tossed together into a theatrical lifeboat on a sea of doubt. Who really knows how we ought to live? What Is To Be Done? It’s the question Tolstoy ended up asking, and writing about, after War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection. It’s the question we sometimes ask ourselves, stuck in downtown traffic, listening to the latest news report about some horrific disaster somewhere overseas. Are we supposed to ignore the so-called outside world and merely feather our nests? Save enough money to buy a flat screen TV?
Helen Edmundson asks the questions for four disparate characters but has no answers. For director Evan Frayne, this is the essence of the play’s value: “I hope that the play provides a jumping off point for an active discussion about all of our responsibilities as citizens of this community as well as the global community.”
Well, men abandon their families all the time—so one can welcome Mother Teresa Is Dead as an unusual attempt to examine what can happen when a woman leaves the home for a supposedly “good” reason.
Then again, one can always fall back on Samuel Johnson, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
-- Paul Durras