Here’s the thing about going crazy. When your heart and mind conspire to twist free your grip on reality, you are usually the last one to know. Okay, now add some post-partum hormones to this pernicious mix. After all, they regularly come with that lovable little package — and account for some very treacherous bathwaters splashing around your new baby.
This rude awakening — and psychotic breaking — is the through line of Mine, the chilling sci-fi-inflected drama by Laura Marks (of the critically acclaimed off-Broadway work Bethany). After premiering in Chicago in 2013, Mine now inhabits an altogether dark, raw, and ruminative space at Threshold Repertory Theatre in a harrowing new production directed by Jay Danner.
The gist is this: Spanking-new parents Mari (Carri Schwab) and Peter (Darryl LaPlante) birth a baby right in their very bedroom, with the help of an inflatable pool commandeered by midwife Joan (Andrea Rausch). Parenthood is thus off to a cozy, homespun start for the mother and child — that is, until Mari begins to doubt whether or not this child is actually her daughter. Mari’s New Age-inclined mother Rina (Linda Esposito) remains at the ready to “talk it out” with the confused, sleep-deprived new mom, and help her mine the distressing onset of her baby blues.
However, while sitting on a neighborhood park bench, Mari meets Amy (Amelia Sciandra), an amiable woman who coos over the newborn before revealing that she has played a key role in the baby swap. Amy’s account, which is complete with Medieval faeries and changelings, is as fantastical as it is implausible. As audience members, like Mari herself, we must determine for ourselves whether this page from ancient folklore is actually taking place in the physical world of the play — or if Amy is simply an apparition manifest from a new mother’s fractured psyche.
So whether it’s raging hormones or raging faeries that are driving Mari to do the things she does in Mine, there they are — in all their preternatural horror. And through the intimacy of this couple, as played by Schwab and DePlante, we are given a squirm-worthy close-up on the tender and the terrifying stuff of familial bonds, from their fragile beginnings to their fraught progression.
As the tormented mother, Schwab carries the emotional weight of the journey, even having at times to minister to her needy husband Peter, who still cries out for her strength as her circumstances drain it from her. Her vacillation between vulnerability and unflagging conviction finds a counterpart in Amy, whose syrupy portrayal of a human soon gives way to the emotionless intonations of the creature lurking underneath, a creature that rivals Mari in her unwavering focus on doing what is best for her own baby.
Most of this action takes place in the bedroom of a contemporary apartment, backlit by changing pastel hues projected onto curtains. The play’s economic scenes shift from the bedroom to the park and elsewhere, and the production allows for ample space to transition between the short scenes — space that is made all the more, well, pregnant, by atmospheric, somber sounds supplied by Nicholas M. Jenkins. I do wonder if the audience needs quite so much breathing space to wade through the ever-darkening plot, and perhaps a bit more velocity could amp up the suspense somewhat. Stewing in the juices of this potentially doomed family unit is not for the faint of heartiness; it took me a good while to shake off the dolor after the show.
That being said, anyone who has sleepwalked through the weary, woozy, wired days of early parenthood should fully get Mari’s predicament, and how blurred is the line between the real and the imagined. (I was a freelance copywriter during my daughter’s early days, and actually submitted a piece of promotional copy rife with inadvertent references to the woodland stuffed animals hanging from her activity gym.) It’s reaffirming for anyone who has been there that the playwright does not sugar coat the rough landing that childrearing can be, with its stresses and messes, its heady ecstasy and high anxiety.
Parent or otherwise, the themes in Mine still resonate. After all, each of us is prey to that terrifying notion that our own sanity is but a house of cards, ready to crumble on just a few less hours of REM. So the work succeeds in giving us a detailed, intimate lens on the reeling gamut of emotions through one heightened moment in time. When things begin to settle down, these emotions are sealed up and disposed of with yesterday’s diapers. Mine provides a pointed reminder that no matter how we try to mask it, we are all subject to the unnerving reality that our minds are just that easy to lose. In fact, it’s as easy as stealing candy from a baby.