Review: The Girl In The Picture Tries To Hang Up The Phone (Optic Heart Theatre)

This moving solo performance honoring an ailing parent is playing at Toronto’s Videofag

The Girl In The Picture Tries To Hang Up The PhoneThe Girl In The Picture Tries To Hang Up The Phone is a solo show written and performed by Hume Baugh at Videofag. It is the journey Baugh takes to celebrate his mother’s life, to understand who she was and to heal from the pain of losing her.

The performance begins with Baugh presenting a photo projection. It’s a black-and-white shot of a group of people mid-action while a young girl looks into the camera. This is the performer’s mother. Baugh then calls for a sound cue. It is the muffled sound of of somebody fumbling to hang up an analogue phone. These two cues, Baugh explains, represent the poles of life.

He asks very difficult questions off the top and throughout: “How do you tell the story of your mother?”  “ Will my siblings agree with the version I tell?”  “How does a person progress from the girl in the picture to the woman who can’t hang up the phone?”

Baugh’s performance is honest and raw as he speaks about his mother in her public and private lives, of her legacy as a feminist and the Dean of Women at a Canadian Ivy League university. He tells of her commitment to motherhood and the devastating aftermath of her failed marriage.

He invites us into his past as he recreates conversations he had with her at various stages. He reenacts a family fight where he challenges his mother’s view of men. He dramatizes a letter he wrote as a child. Emotions run high but humour is never far away whether he’s recalling his mother’s ‘I Don’t Cookbook’ or a hospital visit when she told him to “get your face out of my face!”.

With sparse but selective audio-visual material and a no-frills set, it is Baugh on whom we focus. He may be by himself on stage but he is not alone; he draws us in and we are complicit. The script is full of very eloquent language to describe feeling, personality and sensory detail.

The most potent expression of all uncovers the source of Baugh’s very palpable pain: “Long before she died, [my mother] disappeared into herself in a fog of alcohol.” Baugh reveals the guilt and responsibility he feels over his mother’s death and it is utterly heartbreaking: “How did we let a woman drink herself to death? What kind of love is that?”

The Girl In The Picture Tries To Hang Up The Phone resonates with me in a very personal and powerful way as I suspect it would with anyone who has a sick, dying or deceased parent. I am as haunted by this play as Baugh is by the life and memory of his mother. Both are complex and beautiful and worthy of investigation. Bring tissues.


Image of The Girl In The Picture Tries To Hang Up The Phone courtesy Optic Heart Theatre.