Experience a reinvention of realism at La Mama Theatre. Michael Griffith’s brilliant and relatable story challenges societal views on ageing parents with mental illness. This emotive production identifies a family’s ongoing concern for their elderly mother suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Oldest sister Vicky (Helen Hopkins) is a live-in Carer. She has invited her siblings over to choose a suitable nursing home for their mother. From their family home, that is still filled with their mother’s kitsch furnishings reminiscent of the 60s and 70s; the siblings peruse a collection of nursing homes brochures. Vicki ventures upstairs to tuck their mother into bed, and older brother Jack (Ezra Bix) sits in their deceased father’s reclining chair. He exchanges polite conversation with youngest sister and single mum, Deborah (Rohana Hayes).
The story unfolds to reveal Deborah’s misconceptions surrounding the nursing home costs. The family members bicker over the standard of living they expect for their mother. Deborah assumes the family house will be sold and hopes to use her third to buy an organic vegetable shop to provide for her young sons’ future. Vicki expects only the best accommodation for their mother, whereas Jack —an Estate Agent—hints at ‘letting her go’. The sisters are appalled their brother suggestion that their mother’s illness renders her incoherent and perhaps it would be better if she passed on.
Griffith crafts an ingenious script that shocks and confounds. We’re privy to family secrets; confessions and personal boundaries are crossed. Ezra Bix portrayal of the callous and calculating Jack is masterful. He turns the close sisters against each other by alluding to their deceased father’s superannuation that afforded Vicky’s former gambling habit, and Deborah’s so-called ‘borrowing’ of her mother’s rings.
The sisters bond wavers and Jack sinks in the verbal punches. He’d been monitoring Vicky’s emails and reveals she’d coerced her siblings into deciding their mother’s fate, as she’d planned to meet-up with her online lover in America. Deborah teeters back towards Jack’s side, at which point Vicky faces the audience, tears roll down her cheeks and says a heartbreaking line,
‘You get to a point in your life when the only thing you have left is the ability to live with yourself.’
Griffith’s insightful script permits truly outstanding and convincing performances. He includes a poignant moment of comic relief to dissipate the volatile emotions filling the room. Jack confesses he has sought a solution to their dilemma and presents a small capsule bottle filled with orange juice and a sedative that his Vet used to euthanise his dog.
Vicky is slightly swayed by Jack’s ingenuity, however, Deborah is outraged and stands firm against her older siblings,
‘I’m not that little girl you knew,’
then she takes time out to the back yard for a nicotine fix. The symbolic Magnolia tree has influenced her decision to ‘let their mother go’ and she charges upstairs to her mother’s bedroom with the bottle of orange juice and poison!
This remarkable play takes another turn and asks the audience to decide their mother’s fate. Hands are raised and the actors perform that particular ending.
This immaculate and polished performance is the combination of Sara Grenfell’s purposeful and dynamic direction that compliments Griffith’s controversial script. The stage management is quite inventive in the intimate La Mama space. As is Jasmine Persse use of stark and at times subdued lighting, which emphasises the mood of tense and solemn scenes.
The Magnolia Tree is an interactive and welcome discussion of mortality. This drama will exasperate and empower you. Leaving you to deliberate the eventual outcome of your Magnolia Tree.