Oblivious to the gathering audience, the two actors sit on stage, intently, and intensely, staring at each other. What is it they see? Or rather, what is it they are looking for in each other? The title of the play quotes John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which explores every child’s eventual recognition of their parents’ flaws. This production cleverly relocates this realisation to the visual world, as the daughter Annie’s searching gaze is only ever met by her mother’s unfaltering blank stare, forcing her to publicly come to terms with her mother’s inability to provide her with the maternal love or validation that she so desperately seeks. The prevailing sense of lost innocence is mirrored in the various shades of blue costume. A ladder in the mother’s tights unknowingly reflects the unravelling of their relationship. But so too does the unity of colour tastefully foreshadow the possibility of reconciliation at the play’s end.
Linguistically and visually the play is a simplistic affair. Selma Dimitrijec presents the mother/daughter relationship within just four short scenes, where mother and daughter banally discuss bad weather, baths, and boyfriends. But the quotidian nature of their conversation only serves to enhance the loaded subtext of the script. In each scene the text remains virtually the same. The repetition encircles their relationship with a claustrophobic inability to enact meaningful change even as the textual alterations mark a linear progression of time. With the words of the play becoming ever more meaningless with each repetition, the audience’s focus shifts to the actors’ body language. Whilst Nancy Case (Annie) and Lara Deering (her mother) make good use of the space, weaving in and out of the two chairs on stage, switching roles between hunter and prey, it is in the minutia of facial expression that this play becomes as golden as the heavenly lighting of Scene 4.
Deering’s physicality is enviable. Slightly bent forward, shoulders protectively drawn in, it is hard not to envisage her as the older women she portrays. The character’s beautifully offensive language and resentment rests in the sardonic smile playing at the corner of her mouth throughout the play. Whilst Case does not display quite the same stage presence, her open face allows for her battling feelings of disappointment and acceptance to emotively shine through her eyes.
The audience is seated on three sides of the stage, a decision I feel was detrimental to the play’s appreciation. With much of the two’s relationship progressing through facial detail, the position of the actors renders at least a third of the audience unable to see their exchange. Either the audience should be sat facing each other (in keeping with the tone of the opening), or the angle of the chairs on stage should change between scenes. Nevertheless, with a run time of 40 minutes, no-one has an excuse not to see this play. The themes resonant with a young and older audience alike, and I am sure I will not be the only person to leave the theatre with a childish desire to call my mother straight away.