Nolan Ellsworth in the Dramatic Repertory Company production of “The Mother” Photo by Katie Day

Looking for something on the lighter side from the Dramatic Repertory Company? Well, maybe next time.

“The Mother,” in its world premiere production, concerns the impact of a school shooting on the shooter’s family, particularly the mom of the title. It’s a powerful and harrowing drama that some may find difficult to watch. DRC assures audience members that early exit from any performance is OK. If you stay, though, as all did at the sold-out performance under review, you are likely to know a little more about what a living hell is like and come to appreciate the situation of the less-mourned victims behind the headlines.

Playwright Lynne Connor, who taught at Colby College for a number of years, did extensive research for this work. It employs some arresting theatrical devices to explore a complex subject matter while not asserting any claim to be the final word on the topic.

The piece is structured around the before and after of a school shooting perpetrated by a young man from Pennsylvania.  Much time is spent with the mother, played by Mary Fraser, a devastated survivor of her son’s actions. She faces nearly unbearable personal challenges as she revisits her former self, played by Abigail Killeen, occasionally conversing with her in intense examinations of the question, “How could we have missed it?”

While just about everyone else, including the boy’s unraveling father, played by David Pence, seeks a “cause and effect” explanation, Mom fixes on the catch-all word “unconscionable” in her attempt to somehow move on.

A TV pundit and mass-shooting expert (Michela Micalizio and Molly W. Bryant Roberts, respectively) conduct interviews as the family’s hate mail piles up. A “war culture” that requires a certain “gender performance” is suggested.  The bullying “codes” of boyhood come to mind.

Chilling scenes with the son, played by Nolan Ellsworth, acknowledge “signs missed” while showing how they might be in a family focused on everyday life.

Director Lisa Muller-Jones has kept things visually simple to allow the contrast of public shaming and private anguish to penetrate the layers of meaning uncovered by the script. Family photos upon which are projected eerie closeups of the shooter add to the general sense that we are in a dark, strange place beyond any simple, summing-up resolution. Subtly ominous music pervades.

The seven actors, some in multiple roles, come and go, moving benches and tables around to set the many short scenes. A final tableau feels hard-won and spiritually forgiving.

A bit of showmanship by an announcer played by Robbie Harrison seeks to contextualize a maternal burden that Fraser and Killeen sent home more directly in moving performances. Feelings of empathy are unavoidable for the mother in the story and perhaps also by extension for the one who lives within us all.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.