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Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: 8 Ways My Mother Was Conceived

Many Ways This Piece Is Even Better
Michaela di Cesare and her director find the soul of a play
by Chris Lane

“I compiled a list of the lies my mother told me.”

Lies, or myths, or half-truths, or lies that you tell yourself, or the ever-elusive truth. These all colour the narrative of Michaela di Cesare’s life, centred around the pervasive family belief that her mother was immaculately conceived, thus maintaining her grandmother’s virginity before marriage. 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived is – as the playwright-performer puts it – an autobiomythography about di Cesare’s experience growing up dealing with her Catholic Italian-Canadian family’s mythology and her own Virgin Complex and expectations of herself.
Her descriptions of the people in her life are hilarious, and her play also provides a remarkable snapshot of a distinctive slice of Montreal’s culture.

Di Cesare is a wonderful storyteller, as her play is full of witty lines and unapologetic depictions of her family members. Her characters are so well fleshed out that one feels almost like a part of the family after seeing the play. She seamlessly transitions from her adult self, to her mother, to a “bro” she dated, to her 8-year old self, each played with consistent and easily-distinguished voices and mannerisms. Her descriptions of the people in her life are hilarious, and her play also provides a remarkable snapshot of a distinctive slice of Montreal’s culture.
One interesting thing about a play being performed by its main character is that one can see how di Cesare is still a product of her upbringing, and this play is clearly a part of her own journey in finding her own truths and loving the family she has. She talks about the common experience of women, and while she is critical of her family’s sometimes blinkered and old-fashioned views on a woman’s place in the world, she still talks of an inherent fragility of women at the end of the play. Nevertheless, this play is about growing up in a particular culture, so it is well worth seeing how she still grapples with (and jokes about) the conflict of traditional Italian beliefs in modern Canada.
This is the second run for 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived, having been performed initially at the Montreal Fringe festival last year. Since then, with the help of a funding award and local institutions such as Playwrights Workshop Montreal, the play has been re-written and re-worked and has taken a more minimalist approach with the help of a different director, Tamara Brown. While I did not see the first run, I can say the minimalist style works wonderfully, as it was always very easy to tell which character Di Cesare was playing and what setting she was in. This clarity is also helped by Dumisizwe Vuyo Bhembe’s sound design, which provided just the right touches to set the various scenes. The set by Lara Kaluza, which features photos of various family members, is a perfect fit for this family portrait of a play.
This wonderfully entertaining one-woman show is made even more impressive by the fact that the talented di Cesare is only twenty four years old, so we can only hope that she has many more stories to share with us for years to come. For now at least, her life story is well worth seeing.

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