Posted on 11/05/2017 1:44am by Jennifer Madigan
Elizabeth Peavey revises, reprises ‘My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother’
by Bob Keyes, Portland Press Herald - Nov 5, 2017
Elizabeth Peavey thought she was done with her one-woman performance piece and personal memoir, “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother.” She began writing in 2011, two years after her mother died, while going through her mother’s belongings and deciding what to keep and what to toss.
She wrote about losing a parent and sorting the physical and emotional effects. It was funny, honest and poignant – and popular. Peavey performed it two dozen times over six years, selling out theaters across Maine and winning a Maine Literary Award for best drama in 2013. She even performed it twice in New York.
And then she stopped. “I thought I was done with it,” she said. “I got up on stage and said all the words. People clapped. I won an award.”
But she wasn’t done. The Public Theatre called, and the show got a new life. With Peavey in the starring role, a reworked version of “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother” opens Friday in Lewiston.
People who saw the early version will recognize the new one. The premise is unchanged. Peavey still tells a story about mothers and daughters and letting go. But there are fewer broad strokes, more details, more depth to the emotions and deeper layers of storytelling. Director Janet Mitchko challenged Peavey by asking questions and pushing her toward difficult answers. “There will still be tons of humor, I just think the deeper notes will resonate more,” Peavey said.
She arrived at an interview to talk about the play with a thick binder that contains all the versions, and its pages are covered with hand-written notes and blocks of writing in a rainbow of colors. Red ink means delete. Blue ink indicates new copy.
Cutting, shredding and rewriting was agonizing and electrifying. Peavey and Mitchko didn’t come to blows, but it was tense, and Peavey almost came to tears. Early September was especially wrenching.
“After the longest, most frustrating day of rehearsals, I had an epiphany on the way home: Here I am, standing on a stage, telling stories about my life with my mother that I wrote, and there’s a virtual stranger sitting in the audience telling me how I feel,” she said.
“And she’s right.”
Mitchko appreciates Peavey’s willingness to take direction. Until now, Peavey directed her own performances, and learning to cede some creative control was a hard thing to do. She struggled letting go.
“Sometimes you need a new set of eyes,” Mitchko said. “I was asking her to hang tight to the truth of what you know, but trust me. ‘I am going to ask you to do things differently.’ She took a leap of faith, for which I am incredibly grateful.”
With Mitchko’s input, Peavey rewrote the piece eight times. They fought over adjectives – should it be “that hat” or “her hat” – then jettisoned entire scenes. Other than letting go, the hard part for Peavey has been keeping the different versions separate.
“I have the old versions in my head,” she said. “When I’m rehearsing, if let my brain go slack, it’s easy to go to that old scene. It’s not a matter of learning lines. It’s a matter of unlearning lines.”
Peavey, 58, lives near the Back Cove in Portland and rehearses nearly every morning while walking around Baxter Boulevard. She calls herself “The Mad Woman of the Back Cove,” imagining how she must appear to motorists, walkers and joggers as she mutters to herself while waving her arms.
The effort has been worth it, she said. “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother” is a better play now, she said, a taut 80 minutes, seven scenes and one act. After the nine-performance run in Lewiston, she’s going to try to publish the play so other theater companies can produce it. One-person, one-acts are affordable for theaters to produce and popular with audiences, and her theme of caring for an aging parent and processing emotions after a death is universal, Mitchko said.
“It’s not a sad play. It’s about making peace with what we have to accept about our parents, about ourselves and our relationships,” Mitchko said. “It’s so topical now, especially with where baby boomers are in their lives. It’s incredibly relevant.”
The Public Theatre received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for Arts to develop the play and create community conversations around its theme. In June, Peavey presented an abbreviated version of “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother” and conducted a related discussion group at a geriatrics conference in Bar Harbor. A health-care facility in Farmington wants her to present the same program, and others are calling.
Complicating her rehearsal process, Peavey took a spill on her bicycle in September while riding to the gym early in the morning. The roads were slick, and she went down turning into the parking lot. She hit her head on the pavement and ended up in a heap. She was wearing a helmet and had enough sense to raise her arm, so she would be visible to motorists, until a stranger came to her aid while another called 911.
Her helmet protected her, and she didn’t suffer significant injuries. She spent the morning in the trauma unit and was home by 11 a.m.
Six weeks before her opening, her biggest fear was, “Did I knock my play out of my head?”
She did not. And now, just days before the opening, she is feeling confident – and proud. Peavey is a writer first and foremost, the author of three books and hundreds of columns for Maine newspapers and magazines. She never really considered “My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother” a play and doesn’t refer to herself an actor.
She’s a storyteller, and she thought she was done with this story, but couldn’t resist the challenge – and the risk – of doing it again, and doing it with a collaborator to expand its vision and potential.