What’s powerful and unassuming, both, about this project is that co-author and co-director Feidlim Cannon plays himself, his mother (Ann Cannon, with gentle self-effacement) plays herself, and the psychotherapist (Erich Keller) plays himself in a piece designed to be therapeutic healing ritual (for us and them) as well as performance art. The simplicity and ingenuousness of the effort balance cleverly with the coyness of devices common to performance art. There is a huge video screen with photos and home movies behind the three performers, there are recitals of what seem to be actual letters and recreations of the events, and there are icons and symbols (life-size cut-outs of two children; a plain turquoise conference table that stands in for, among other things, a hospital bed; colored paper party-hats; intentionally artificial representations of snowfall, of key telephone conversations, of medical diagnoses, of an infant, of a now-dead father, and of anger itself). Everything is abstracted because, one comes to realize, the direct representation of the specific tragedies that these people wish to exorcise could be too real to bear.
So we are told a story about loss and coping and how a mother and son, with a therapist, have made peace with events that capsized their ability to trust in pharmaceuticals and medical rhetoric. And it’s a story (which I cannot reveal without spoiling it) which is sourced in the stand-in objects that remind mother and son of what actually went down.
The aesthetic restraint of the piece, especially when juxtaposed against the sound and fury of the oldest son, was cumulatively quite moving for me. But here the sound is muted, and the fury is likened, very literally at one point, to the air pent up in the little balloons we, the audience, are instructed by the psychotherapist to work with. The filmed images of the glass of Guinness which are meant to stand in for the father at the beginning of the show remind us that in order to represent the fullness of life with integrity, there must be distance and signage and camouflage.
“Now you have the chance to take your fears out and look at them. What are you afraid of?” says the mother to the son at the outset. This very human play is well worth that look.
I Have No Mouth – written and directed by Fiedlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
WITH: Ann Cannon, Fiedlim Cannon, and Erich Keller (playing versions of themselves)
Lighting Design by Sarah Jane Shiels; Sound Design by Jack Cawley; Choreography by Eddie Kay; Costume Design by Emma Downey; Video Design by Kilian Waters; A production of Brokentalkers (a Dublin based theatre company) produced by Irish Arts Center (Aidan Connolly, Executive Director) as part of Performance Space 122’s COIL Festival 2014. At Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan; (866)811-4111 (www.irishartscenter.org). Through January 26 (8pm Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm). Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission