With courageous and unassuming candor, Claire Moodey walks onto the Brick Theater stage and plays us a voicemail from her mother. It is surprisingly long, rather upbeat, and circles in loops of logic that are challenging to keep up with. We hear a mother’s gentle love–she’s calling her daughter to say hi, report on hometown goings-on, see if she needs anything–and we also hear an earnest absurdity as sentences run-on and she jumps too quickly from topic to topic. There was something about a newspaper article featuring a childhood friend, and an Australian leather hat. A low sense of disquiet settles in the room amidst the warmth. As Claire continues to introduce us to her mother through photographs, she says that she’s been trying to write this for a long time. “I don’t know if I’ve done it,” she admits.
This cocktail, so to speak, of intimacy, absurdity, and the unsettling is precisely Moodey and director Lacy Post’s guiding light as they dig through Moodey’s theatrical mirror exercise with her mother, Mary. Complete with self-care breaks for dancing and tea, we are tenderly shepharded further and further down the dark spiral of Mary’s mental illness and history of abuse, as well as the discovery of her queerness during Moodey’s childhood. Voicemails and photos become stories which become bizarre reenactments by a chorus with fruits for heads. Moodey reveals to us her own struggles with depression and her own queer identity, and the spiral is let loose again in a beautiful duet for two as mother and daughter attempt become and un-become one other.
The way Moodey and Post have interwoven powerful direct address and radical honesty with the absurd feels truer than any neat, dramatic retelling of her family history ever could. Rather than showing us what happened to her in detail, Moodey draws us into her mind and body as she lives in dialectics, as id, ego, and superego all compete to define experience. “How did I inherit these feelings?” Moodey laments as she dives into her own depression. Indeed, this failure of linear logic to encapsulate the complexities of intergenerational trauma and of shared emotional lives points to another central question of femme pathos: how have constructions of mental illness, geneology, and the family been betrayed by the patriarchy? What happens to mothers and daughters when they can pluck themselves out of that matrix for just a moment, and look at one another inside and out? femme pathos offers a new language for the journey.