Though the exhibition doesn’t have many works in it, it feels complete. Flanking the stage are works that directly relate to the performance. On the left are drawings made of oil stick on brown paper crudely depicting masks, set designs, and violent statements like “YOUR SON HAS BEEN SHOT.” Each drawing is clearly handmade. There is nothing mechanical about the art, though some of the drawings depict factories and laborers – giving humanity to the labor movement, a theme that is later called out in the performance of The Mother.
The Mother takes place in 1917 Russia, and portrays a mother, Mrs. Vlassova, in relationship to her rebel son Pavel. The action of the play occurs on the triangular stage and the masks become physical aids in storytelling. Gaines, Gordon, and Segado wear neutral off-white work clothes including coveralls, caps, and work boots. Though they appear to match, each of their costumes is distinct - their individuality is highlighted. The story takes place in a series of locations including the kitchen of Mrs. Vlassova, the factory where Pavel works, a prison, a teacher’s home, and sites of protest outside of the factory. The drawings are activated during the performance, projected onto the wall behind the stage to set the scene for each location.
The performance was punctuated by songs from the original play set to musical arrangements by Gaines. Employing theatrical tactics, My Barbarian exploits musical styles, dance, and inflections in the actors’ voices and bodies to tell the story of Mrs. Vlassova’s place in the revolution. Tied solely to the domestic space of her home, she is introduced to the revolution through her son Pavel who works in a factory. Pavel’s desire to fight for better wages involves his mother giving both her emotional and physical support. She aids the revolution through her words and her actions, eventually leaving her home to complete covert operations for the revolutionary effort, visit her son in prison, and even join in the violent protest marches.
The success of the performance lies in the liberties My Barbarian took with their interpretation of the original. The performers play multiple characters in the story. Each takes a turn at playing the mother. Even the audience has a chance to perform the mother through call and response at the end of the performance. In this way My Barbarian suggests that all people have a “maternal instinct” and the place a mother may have in stirring revolution. Revolutions don’t emerge from thin air – they are birthed, weaned, and grown. Through neutralizing costumes, the use of masks, and simplistic use of set design, My Barbarian is able to tell the story of revolution while simultaneously remarking upon the importance of the mother in nurturing social justice.