The play Motherland, a show put on by Amber Heart Productions currently running in the Toronto Fringe Festival at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, takes a hard look at the complicated relationship people in our globalized world can have with their homelands. Young Armenian actor and musician Davit finds himself faced with a hard choice, between the poor homeland he loves and the wider world with its terrifying openness.
Playwright Kristine Greenaway‘s Motherland is set in Yerevan, the capital of an Armenia that longs for the better days of the Soviet era. The multi-talented Davit (Erik Mrakovcic), who struggles to make ends meet for himself and his mother Ana (Susan Q Wilson) doing whatever jobs he can find, meets the assertive Frenchwoman Line (Konstantina Mantelos) while looking for an audition with a German director. As he falls in love with Line, Davit quickly finds himself caught up in an increasingly tense contest between his mother, who wants to keep him living with her, and Line, who can live with him only if he tries to break away from the traditions that as much shackle him to the same deadening routine as ground his life in comfortable meaning.
Motherland‘s characters were vivid and believable. Mrakovcic sells the character of Davit very well, bringing to life someone justly frustrated that he’s not able to develop and profit from his many talents, someone grounded solidly enough in the past to consider trying something new. Mantelos’ Line is also compelling, a person who shows herself more than willing to fight for what she wants and what she believes in. Ana, played by Wilson, also comes to life as a woman whose fierce love of her son pushes her to extremes. Seeing these characters interact with each other, on a simple stage lavishly carpeted with rugs of Middle Eastern style, was a joy.
As compelling as the performances were, I found myself wanting more of the story. One example was the recurring character of Arman, played by Jeff Kennes. Arman’s character is defined by his sexual orientation as a gay man, a man who simply is not allowed a place as himself in a strongly homophobic culture. Not at ease with Davit’s relatively uncomplicated embrace of traditions, Arman supports Line’s relationship with Davit, to the point of offering up his home for their trysts. As Arman’s story developed, I wanted more of his potentially very interesting story. Equally, I found myself wanting to learn more of Ana, whose character developed in the course of Motherland in directions I had not expected at the start of the show, significantly complicating her relationship with her beloved Davit. I feel that Motherland evokes characters and their relationships well, but more would have been helpful.
Motherland is an engaging case study of one man’s struggle to choose between what he knows and loves and what he would love to know. The conflicts that this show depicts are the sorts of struggles that we all will come to have some knowledge of, in our still-globalizing world. That Motherland illustrates this issue so vividly is, for the theatre-goer, a bonus.
- Motherland is playing until July 16 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. (79 St. George Street)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be advised that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and latecomers are never admitted. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible.
- July 7th at 7:00 pm
- July 8th at 11:00 pm
- July 9th at 5:00 pm
- July 11th at 12:45 pm
- July 13th at 5:45 pm
- July 14th at 2:15 pm
- July 16th at 5:45 pm
Photo of Kontantina Mantelos and Erik Mrakovcic by Nicholas Porteous.