Briar Street Theatre

I can’t decide how I feel about Mother Wove the Morning. This one-woman show, written and performed by Carol Lynn Pearson, consists of monologues by 16 women whose lives span human history. She starts with Bruen, a Paleolithic woman who sees nature as profoundly feminine: “Earth–her womb, giving, giving. Seasons, her cycle. Look, moon–her silver egg, fruit of her night sky.”

Then, like a channeler, Pearson gives voice to 15 other women. Some are historical figures: Rachel from the Old Testament, Emma Smith, the wife of Mormon leader Joseph Smith, and 19th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Others are fictional: Genevieve, a 15th-century witch, Running Cloud, a Native American woman, and Marie, a contemporary therapist who is helping a male patient overcome the aloof, unaffectionate behavior he learned from his father. Pearson’s goal, she tells the audience while introducing herself, is to restore a sense of the feminine to the popular conception of God.

“In my heart I know that the creator that brought us here is in some wonderful way both father and mother,” she says. “Perhaps, in the beginning, on that primordial day, mother wove the morning and father made the evening, joyfully, together.”

Since I don’t believe in God, I was indifferent to the question of whether God is male or female. On the other hand, I was enthused about the subtext of that question, which amounts to an argument in favor of blending “feminine” attitudes and traits into the macho outlook that dominates our society. This has been a constant theme of feminist ideology, and one of the most successful.

But instead of promoting the feminine, Pearson often resorts to simple male bashing. The show opens with a joke about Saint Peter, who confronts women at the gates of heaven with a more difficult admission test than the one he administers to men. Several of the characters Pearson portrays have been brutalized by men. A ten-year-old virgin, for example, describes how her mother was disemboweled by warrior priests, and a 13-year-old describes a brutal rape she witnessed. Pearson herself also makes a few digs–she reports, for example, that Genevieve the witch showed up at rehearsal one day wearing a button that said, “If they can send a man to the moon, why can’t they send all of them?”

Then, in a feeble attempt to deny this prejudice against men, Pearson begins the second act by saying, “on behalf of all the women in this play, I would like to thank the men in the audience who are part of the solution and not part of the problem”–a remark that triggered my gag reflex.

But then how could a woman like Pearson not be angry? She was raised in the Mormon church, one of the most blatantly sexist denominations this side of Mecca. Years ago, she says, she wrote a poem about her religion, comparing it to living in a “motherless” house “where kindest patriarchal care does not ease the pain.” And she recognizes the political ramifications of patriarchal religion. “When God is male, the male is god,” she says, quoting a Catholic theologian. The truth of that simple statement lies at the heart of Mother Wove the Morning, which is obviously a deeply personal outcry.

But deeply personal writing does not necessarily translate into good theater. This show often lapses into the strident, monotonous tone of a political tract. Even though the monologues appear to focus on the experiences of the characters, they frequently sound like illustrations of political theory. Rachel, for example, steals some tiny images of gods and goddesses and avoids being searched by her father by claiming she has her period, which, of course, prevents him from touching her. Translation: women crave connection with God, and men are foolish for feeling disgust over natural bodily functions. Hilda, the Nazi woman, points out that Hitler promised to rid society of the “new woman” as well as the Jews. In other words, only fascists would oppose feminism.

But some of the characters do draw the audience into their lives. Emma Smith’s lament about her husband’s polygamy, for example, is more an expression of the anguish of a woman trapped in an unbearable marriage than a political diatribe. And Elizabeth Stanton, with her sharp tongue and biting wit, is a character in the best sense of the term.

I wish I had a clear opinion about Mother Wove the Morning. I wish I could say without equivocation that it is passionate, or self-indulgent, or courageous, or polemical, or precious, or bombastic, or beguiling. But the content of the show is so unusual, and Pearson, dressed all in white, is brilliant only in brief flashes, and all of those descriptions apply to some extent, which is the main weakness of this piece.

And also one of its main strengths.