For Mother’s Day I’ve chosen a play about mothers: although the women in The Mai could be used for advertising how not to be a parent.
Marina Carr’s second play, The Mai, is much closer in style to her later plays that I’ve loved so dearly. And it’s a treasure trove of parts for female actors.
Four generations of women from one family are gathered together in the new house that The Mai has built at Owl Lake. There’s Grandma Fraochlan (100 years old and the pick of the parts), her two daughters (Julie and Agnes), three grand daughters (Mai, Connie and Beck) and a great grand daughter (Millie). The thorn in their midst is Robert, The Mai’s estranged husband, who’s taken a break from his philandering ways and come home to the beautiful house The Mai built to lure him back.
As always with Marina Carr’s writing the language is beautiful, evocative and poetic and the characters possess flaws that you know will cause their demise.
Grandma Fraochlan is no doubt the start of all the damage. When she arrives on stage carrying the wooden oar she won’t be parted with (it’s all that’s left of her husband), she appears a light-hearted figure for comic relief. With her opium pipe and mulberry wine, she could easily be a figure of fun. But it’s her obsession with her long dead husband that sets the patterns all the offspring seem doomed to follow.
GRANDMA FRAOCHLAN: I know he was a useless father, Julie, I know, and I was a useless mother. It’s the way we were made! There’s two types of people in this world from what I can gather, them as puts their children first and them as puts their lover first and for what it’s worth, the nine-fingered fisherman and meself belongs ta the latter of these. I would gladly have hurled all seven of ye down the slopes of hell for one night more with the nine-fingered fisherman and may I rot eternally for such unmotherly feelin’.
This is a play that’s full of dreams, images and ghosts (not literal ones). The characters are haunted by the past and the future seems pre-ordained, set in motion by dreams and hauntings. Millie, the youngest character, is on stage throughout playing her part in two times: aged 16 in the ‘present’ all the other characters inhabit, and as a woman of 30, remembering the events. She’s often the audience’s window into the dark rooms.
MILLIE: None of The Mai and Robert’s children are very strong. We teeter along the fringe of the world with halting gait, reeking of Owl Lake at every turn. I dream of water all the time. I’m floundering off the shore, or bursting towards the surface for air, or wrestling with a black swan trying to drag me under. I have not yet emerged triumphant from those lakes of the night.
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Cast: 7F, 1M