Even though it's only February, I feel secure in saying that You, My Mother is one of the year's most interesting and unusual theatrical works. Though it's called an "opera project" by its creators, a group known as the Two-Headed Calf, that's only an approximation. The libretto is mostly sung. But it, and the music, and the staging, are all so purposely disjointed that by the time the show has forced us into its surrealist/avant-garde mode we don't feel that we're in a familiar artistic environment that we can safely describe as "opera" or even "theater" in the traditional sense.
If that sounds off-putting, it is a little, at first. But Part 1, which is the longer section of the evening, composed by Rick Burkhardt with a libretto by Kristen Kosmas, gives us characters we can latch onto: a mother (Beth Griffith) and two grown children, Helen (Laryssa Huslak) and Dave (Mike Mikos), and after a nervously bizarre introduction a narrative starts to emerge from the anxious, arhythmic music.
Photo by Prudence Katze
Throughout the work, the singers stop and start words in mid-speech, which can be read on an obvious level as representing the difficulty of communication. That theme is brought to the fore in the most arresting scene, in which Helen tries to open up to her mother about her feelings, which relate to a sense of having been overlooked as a child in favor of Dave. "I was saying I'm really sad Mom. I feel really sad and scared and kind of down and depressed and hopeless and lifeless and sort of numb…" But Helen's painfully difficult delivery of these lines is about as distant from the Woody Allen quality of that particular speech as you can imagine. And the frustrated reply, "I don't know why Helen but I still can't hear you," comes as no surprise.