My Mother's Story: a heartwarming and heartbreaking performance

Eight women open their hearts and unveil their mother's stories in a raw and genuine play.

My Mother's Story
Photos by Chris van der Schyf

If you told the story of your mother, what would it look like? Would you be proud, or embarrassed? Maybe you don’t know anything about your mother’s life. Maybe if you did, you would be surprised at the hardships she endured, and the crazy experiences she had.

Presentation House Theatre and Mothership Stories Society took a unique approach at encouraging women to learn their history and forcing them to essentially reflect on how they have become the individual they are today. They asked the women of North Vancouver (City and District) to write the stories of their mothers. Sixty women submitted their stories, some with kids, some without. Eight of these women were chosen to take part in the production of My Mother’s Story: Esther Chase, Sandra Crawford, Janice George, Meghna Haldar, Suzanne Humphreys, Wendy Noel, Suzanne Ristic, and Beate Sigriddaughter.

The stories that unfold in Marilyn Norry’s and Jenn Griffin’s production are about how these women have lived, while also showing how “good” they were at mothering. With the women coming from all parts of the world, the play highlights different cultural attitudes and customs, but ultimately pieces together the story of women’s lives of the 20th century.

My Mother's Story

My Mother’s Story is heartwarming and heartbreaking, with teary moments broken up by comedic lines and bursts of laughter. It’s scripted but raw; the real stories are portrayed by local actresses in a manner so genuine that you believe the stories to be their own. And some of the stories are their own. 

The play has very few props, as the main focus is the women and their words. A projection of images of the mothers on a block centre stage aides visually while stories are told. Creativity is shown in random choreographed songs and lyrical movements.

After watching the play and wiping away my tears, I was fortunate to get to chat with actors Wendy Noel and Suzanne Ristic about their experience participating in the play.

What drew you to take part in it?

WENDY NOEL: I wanted to be able to tell my mother’s story and because I live in North Van and was from here, it was a very good fit.

SUZANNE RISTIC: This show has been in my psyche for a long time, over a year I think. I had seen the readings twice and was profoundly moved by them. Of course while I'm watching, I am thinking could I write my own Mother's story and then last year the announcement from Presentation House that they were seeking the stories of women on the North Shore was a great motivator. Added to that was the possibility of an acting job.

Did you find her story hard to write about?

WENDY: I wrote my own mother’s story in two to three, as I was fresh from doing a genogram for my counsellor’s training, so her life was very alive for me.

SUZANNE: I sat down to write it, and didn't find it as difficult as expected. The parameters that Marilyn and Jenn have set up free one from opinion. We were instructed to stick to the facts and nothing but the facts and keep the focus on mom and fact-by-fact as life emerges. I feel that my issues with my mom are behind me so I didn't experience an emotional catharsis. I have heard other women describe a profound emotional connection to their mom while writing but not the case for me.

How did you feel before the opening night? 

WENDY: Well, I actually found that reading the story in June (for a staged reading) gave me a good idea of how my mother’s story would be received, so I felt excited for the previews and opening. There are times when I hear shock in the audience (or what I perceive as shock) when I tell the part about my mother’s LSd experience…and that is a bit disconcerting.  (I quickly get past it though) 

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