Mother Teresa Is Dead

Sam Redford, Rebecca Harris, Nehal Joshi and Kristin Griffith
It's a dilemma for many: how can we enjoy life's comforts while there are impoverished and starving children in the world? If it can't be ignored, is it enough to do what volunteer work we can within our own community, and return to our homes, palaces compared to people living in the extremely distressed countries of the Third World? Or should we devote ourselves completely to the cause, even if it means neglecting our own families? It's true, many of us don't get all that deep in the worry - an annual check is enough of a contribution for most who want to do something for the world's poor. But, in Helen Edmundson's Mother Teresa Is Dead, a woman goes much further by leaving her home, her husband and her son, to go to India and make a larger effort on behalf of that countries orphaned children. Yet she is not fulfilled, she is not happy, she is torn by two worlds for which she feels a responsibility.

The play is set in a village near Madras, where English artist Frances (Kristin Griffith) lives quite comfortably. Jane (Rebecca Harris) has taken refuge here and, months after fleeing London, her husband Mark (Sam Redford) and their their 5-year-old son, she is showing signs of the toll on her mental, physical and emotional health. Worried, Frances has contacted Mark and he arrives determined to bring Jane back to London. Srinivas (Nehal Joshi) is an Oxford-educated Indian with whom Frances has had a long, uneven relationship; he is a passionate champion of the orphans, and he uses his philosophical and emotional connection with Jane to entice her to stay. The play concerns itself mostly with Frances, Mark and Srinivas as Jane's conflict is pressed upon the audience.

Redford plays Mark as slightly chauvinistic, somewhat stereotypical middle-class husband. He and Jane are far apart in their ideas of what they should be doing with their lives, and it's difficult to see what connection they ever had. Mark feels very foreign outside of his homeland and wants to restore the happy home he thought was being built with his wife and son. Joshi carries himself with great confidence, as Srinivas feels he is living the unselfish humanitarian life that should be Jane's goal. Well, he's not the mother of a young child, and, in Harris' portrayal, Jane is struck nearly comatose from her divided loyalties and the difficulty of reconciling her feelings. She shuffles from room to room, hunched over, blank-eyed. I suppose she is meant to represent all of us, but a more colorful canvas would be more engaging. Griffith really shines in this cast, though Frances is more connecting tissue than impetuous. And that's fine, as there's a nice balance amongst the people who care for and surround Jane.

The ideas Edmundson presents here are important, well worth contemplation. However, I'm not sure it takes an entire two-act play to put it out there for the audience to consider. And the play is much less about the characters and their personal stories than it is about simply offering the idea of becoming comfortable with the amount of good the advantaged can do for others. With richer characterizations, it could be both.

Tony Ferrieri's set is handsomely designed: a cutaway view of Frances' nicely appointed home, stretched across the stage like a fold- out doll house. Costumes (Angela M. Vesco), Lighting (Andrew David Ostrowski) and Sound (Elizabeth Atkinson) are all perfect appointments. Tracy Brigden directs a bit unhurriedly for my taste, and I feel she could have worked with Harris a bit more to bring out the actress' natural warmth while still evoking the dark corner in which Jane resides.

Pittsburgh City Theatre opens its 2007-208 season with Helen Edmundson's Mother Teresa Is Dead, which runs through October 28. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit

Photo: John Schisler

-- Ann Miner

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