“Unravelled” is a play about a mother, younger and older who loves her daughter unconditionally and a daughter who loves her mother as well, that is until she gets sick with both cancer, then dementia that is caused from the chemotherapy. Joy(Kittson O’Neil) and her mom (Suzanna Hay), the older mother are two different people from the beginning. Her mom is a hip, beautiful sexy women, Joy is a geeky nerd, who happens to at least be attractive. She would rather study the stars, the galaxy and the universe, it is her passion. Joy’s lifelong ambition is to be an astronaut, unfortunately for her she is claustrophobic. She ends up doing the next best thing for her, she is a professor in the Ph,D program at a University. She teaches The Philosophy of Space and Time. Joy’s life is put in turmoil, she is constantly being called home by her mom’s nurse (La Donna Binns), and Joy’s work is lacking deeply stirring the ire of the Department chairman. Joy has missed a huge appointment with a Grant Foundation and the Chairman is not happy. We see Joy’s conflict, her work is hurting, so is her social life. Joy really hates being home and seeing her mother like this. Her biggest conflict is that she has much guilt about how she now feels about her mother. She remembers her mom as a strong vibrant women who could type 300 words a minute, who was funny, as was this play at times. Joy’s mom was the backbone of the family, her father ran off when she was a baby. Even though they lived with the grandmother, what Joy’s mom said, went, she was the authority figure. Even though her home life was dysfunctional,(the grandfather ran off as well), they were both really happy to be in each others company. So when Joy sees her sick and not knowing where she is, she becomes both frustrated and upset often leaving her at odds with her mom’s nurse. Joy feels that the nurse is not responsive to her mothers wacky behavior with the neighbors or when her mom ripped up there precious garden that they both planted when Joy was eleven years old.
The direction and the lighting were excellent in this performance. Kathyn Macmillan’s direction had the characters constantly moving as this was a wind sprint of a play, blink and you missed a lot of this very fast pace. Macmillan also also had simultaneous scenes, we saw Hay with her nurse and Joy with her younger mom. We saw Joy with her TA (teaching assistant), (Maxwell Eddy), with Joy and Joy’s mom and nurse, Joy with her class and her mom flashing the next door neighbor with the nurse in tow. Kate Mc Gee did a wonderful job in the lighting. Her orange, whites and dark yellow gave us a sense of the twilight of the mothers life. It also gave us the sense of Joy spinning out of her realm which was control her entire life. It should also be noted that Elivia Bovernzi’s costumes were well done. In a season of off and off Broadway where many shows costumes were null and void, Bovernzi’s costumes were admirable. From mom’s nighty, to the nurses outfit, her costumes were on the mark.
The acting was decent, I thought Joy could have been more animated in her role. O’Neil was a bit stiff, where her role should of had her more out of sorts, rather she was more robotical, as was Eddy. The student, TA was really difficult to follow or believe. He tells us that he is in grad school because of a dare. He is sexually intimate with Joy. He wants to transfer to another professor for his dissertation because he wants an open relationship with her rather then a hidden one which they have now. Joy and the TA have no warmth even during a scene where they were intimate in her office. We just never knew what he was thinking or what he felt. We know he really liked her but we do not know to what degree. The nurse gave us the same feeling. We know she didn’t like Joy, but why not? We know she really liked the mother, but why? These questions were never answered. Suzanne Hay gives a performance for the ages. Hay had us one the edge of our seats. Her outbursts due to her dementia were fantastic, hitting screaming or happy we never knew what was happening next. Hay commanded this performance as she was funny, violent and we felt for her. She brought tears to many in the audience. Like a great performance should be, we felt her, her pain, her past, her dark future and her hopes.
“Unravelled”, if re work a little, with big time actors,(excluding Hay), could be another “Night Mother”. This show with the right tweaks could be Broadway bound, it would need a better Joy, Nurse and younger mother as well as a better TA. A bigger Broadway stage would allow Macmillan to do even more for this fast upbeat show. The split scenes would work even better on a bigger stage.