Fifty women play the role of their lifetime, literally—as daughters. Photo by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.
The mother-daughter relationship. That’s a big one for a play to tackle—even with a cast of 50 of the city’s female actors. It’s arguably the most sensitive, personal, and unexplainable aspect of the female experience. If there was ever a show that properly encapsulated all of the potential irks, quirks, joys, and jabs that can be found within the mother-daughter relationship, what a confusing, exhausting, meandering beast of a play it would be. In fact, it would be awful, and this review would condemn it for being hypocritical, scattered, and without context. So it’s pretty astonishing in itself that Necessary Angel Theatre‘s second Luminato offering, Tout Comme Elle (Just Like Her) (the first being a modernized version of the tragedy Andromache) manages to avoid such chaos, especially with so many bodies on one stage. But with this subject matter, trying to mean everything to everyone is impossible. That’s understandable, but it makes for an inconsistently engaging experience.
As Torontoist explored previously, this version of Tout Comme Elle (Just Like Her) is the English adaptation (translated by Erín Moure) of Louise Dupré’s script, exploring the themes of love, loss, pride, shame, and the mother-daughter relationship through a blend of monologues, choral song, and choreographed movement. It captivated Montreal audiences and critics in 2006. Still under the direction of Siminovitch Prize–winner Brigitte Haentjens, the current version consists of a bigger cast, all women living in Toronto. That fact alone makes it a rare piece of theatre worth seeing. It was thrilling to see the city’s most established performers interspersed with newer talents on the same stage, a cross-section of generational, cultural, and theatrical diversity. It’s hard to imagine any other performance in which this will occur.
This show epitomizes the “strength in numbers” theory, as long as the numbers work as cooperatively and harmoniously as the cast of TCE does. Even though it was a preview we saw, the time the company had spent perfecting the choreography was obvious; movements were expertly in time across the board. The characters may have been telling different stories, but they were all moving along identical trajectories. All dressed in what appeared to be their own clothes within a colour palette of red (like a mother’s lipstick), nude (like her pantyhose), and black (her little black dress), they were each unique, yet all somehow the same. Together, the cast makes the message of the show very clear: that despite the nature of the mother-daughter relationship—be it one of admiration, respect, scorn, neglect, or downright hate—it is the immutable fate of the woman to become her mother. In this particular interpretation, even though they’re the same person, the mother and the daughter will forever be unable to truly connect with each other.
And this is where it starts to lose us.
The choice to explore so many different kinds of relationships means that it’s very difficult for the audience to be fully invested for the entire show. As individual as the mother-daughter bond is for each audience member, so is each interpretation of the play— moments will stand out as particularly poignant for some, while other viewers may tune out when they no longer see themselves on the stage. And while those moments of resonance are quite gripping, all else in between seems comparatively flat (though still beautiful to watch).
So in our very personal opinion, the strongest moments were in the depictions of a child mistaking another woman for their mother (and the resulting bewilderment) or waving to the audience in the middle of a ballet recital, one woman’s (Jessica Moss) inability to imagine her mother dead without really knowing her, and an excellent, excellent closing line that really shows off the spectrum of a maternal-offspring alliance. But that’s just us. Ask anyone else, and you’ll get a different answer.