A Lecture on Post Partum Depression

Three mothers suffering from post partum depression take the stage, and their stories spill out of them as though there had been no one there to listen before. This may be true, but being in the theater simply to listen is not enough. In the Shadow of My Son, written and adapted by Nadine Bernard from her own experiences with post partum depression, interviews with other mothers, and various pieces of literature, poses a few questions, but offers no discoveries. The main question comes close to the end, when the women are sitting together in a support group—“why don’t they educate women about PPD?” In the Shadow of My Son is Bernard’s attempt to solve that problem, and the play could become required viewing for expectant mothers just as car safety videos are shown to drivers ed students and drug videos are shown in health classes. The intent is to educate, however the play never becomes a theatrical experience.

In the Shadow of My Son suffers from rambling monologues and too many sketches that never add up to anything. There are some nice moments—the post partum talk show featuring a delightful Wendy Baron and a charismatic Mavis Martin as the humorous duo Earth Mother and Rainbow Mother. Together they answer letters from mothers, and their distinctive personalities make these scenes the most enjoyable. Another stand-out scene is the haunting one in which Baron’s character reads from Amy Koppelman’s book A Mouthful of Air as Martin’s character acts out the passage in which the main character drowns her baby. Alexandra Gilman, memorable as one of the mothers who continuously asks for her own mom, infuses her monologues with raw emotional power. Overall, though, the play fails to become the sum of its few working parts.

The scenery is both cluttered and obvious. Children’s playhouses and toy kitchens line the back wall, and blocks and boxes litter the stage as if the characters are in a child’s playroom. The boxes are meant to symbolize the idea that these mothers put their personalities in a box on the top shelf once their baby was born. But this line is uttered more than once, and one longs for some sort of visualization that doesn’t have to be explained, something in this play that the audience can discover for themselves.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post