Who is the Apple of Egni's Eye?
Theatre Terrific recently produced Egni's Eye at Performance Works in Vancouver. Subtitled as "The Story Arthur Miller Didn't Want Told: Part 2 - The Mother", this new play is inspired by the true story of photojournalist Inge Morath who gave birth to a daughter and a son. The daughter, Rebecca Miller, grew up in the family home but her brother Daniel Miller grew up in an institution.
Why you ask? Because Daniel Miller was born with Down Syndrome.
Written and directed by Susanna Uchatius, this play is a companion piece to Theatre Terrific's production of The Secret Son which focused on the life of an author based on Arthur Miller and his relationship with his unacknowledged son Daniel. In Egni's Eye, we hear the same story but now from the perspective of a mother who visits her institutionalized son on weekends but never brings him home.
Admittedly, this is a dramatic story. Shocking, even. And I understand why Artistic Director Susanna Uchatius (herself a mother of a disabled child) might be drawn to this material. However, I believe this Theatre Terrific production failed to illuminate fully the journey of Egni and how she really feels about her abandoned son. Played by Monique Bourgeois, Egni returns again and again to the institution to see Daniel yet we never see her truly connect with him. We learn much more about Daniel (Jonah Killoran) in his scenes with other characters, especially his possibly imaginary friend Joe (Paul Lapointe) and his sister Rebecca (Lindsay Drummond). And the brief encounters of Egni with her childhood friend Renata (Odessa Shuquaya) seem shallow in comparison.
Perhaps this production of Egni's Eye is trying to make the point that Egni never became the woman she could have been because she was robbed of a connection with her son Daniel. Unfortunately for the audience, this means we watch scene after scene where Egni seems to be an empty shell. Her life is tragic – but that tragedy cannot sustain a full 90 minutes of theatre.
Using the flexible space at Performance Works, the creative team was successful in creating both a family home and an institutional setting. With stark white furniture and monochromatic projections, the theatrical world is one where joy is missing. Kudos to composer James Coomber for bringing some lightness to the show with a bluesy number where Daniel and Joe wail that they got “The Institutional Blues.” Also of note were the striking paper masks worn by the characters in certain scenes (apparently based on research which revealed that the Miller family indeed wore similar masks).
After the performance ended, Susanna Uchatius stood onstage and answered questions from the audience about this unbelievable true story. Audience members wanted to know more – and many seemed unsure that the events of the play could have really happened. If you want to to read more about Daniel Miller, click here to read the 2007 Vanity Fair article. (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/09/miller200709)
(Egni's Eye – a Theatre Terrific production at Performance Works on Granville Island April 12-21, 2012.)