Review by Charlotte Leamon
In A Letter for Molly, four women gather together to share a story of cultural and familial hardships, leaving the audience filled with warmth and love. Brittanie Shipway pays tribute to her mother, Ma and Miiimi by demonstrating the struggles of women in Aboriginal families, specifically her own Gumbaynggir ancestry. The story follows Renee’s (Shipway’s) shocking discovery of an unwanted pregnancy and her reflections on motherhood as she deliberates if she wants to keep her unborn baby, Molly. Through this journey we cut back in time to the other generations of Renee’s family and witness the generational mother-daughter relationships. As Renee reflects she sits with the audience on a box above the stage, painting out her visions and dreams of her ancestry.
Through an interrupted timeline, we begin with Miimi (Lisa Maza) instructing her daughter Darlene (Paula Nazarski) to not go to a protest fighting for their rights. Interesting issues are displayed here where Miimi, “got my hair done like the Queen!” and refuses to speak of her Gumbaynggir heritage. As an audience, we witness white supremacy and discrimination apparent in the 1950s affecting Aboriginal families and assisting in the loss of their language. Darlene wants an education but is instructed by Miimi to be a babysitter and have children. Once Darlene has her child Linda (Nazarene Dickerson) we see her enforcement of education upon Linda and the harsh rules implied, no matter how well Linda does in school. As a result, Linda starts to worry more about her appearance and when she gives birth to Renee from an unwanted pregnancy, her body image issues inflict upon Renee. These generational issues are beautifully demonstrated from daughter to daughter, and all lead to Renee’s choice of having an abortion or not. A touching scene is played out where each mother speaks a poem in a canonic style starting with the line, “My daughter.” Here, Renee poetically displays her mourning for her unborn child Molly as she is not ready for her yet. The cycle is broken with Renee as she has an abortion, and the audience is relieved. Whilst it is a heartbreaking moment, we see the importance of change and how each mother-daughter relationship has led to this moment. Amongst serious topics, Renee banters with other characters which leaves room for comic relief. Taboo topics such as sex, vaginas and childbirth are challenged with the audience as she has no issues discussing the ‘private’ aspects of these. This makes the audience feel closer to Renee, and more personal with the sharing of her story.
As well as the plot unfolding seamlessly, the set is demonstrative of Renee’s artistry. We see graphic videos on the backdrop of the stage with butterflies flying each time a mother dies. This imagery, as well as the wallpaper of their home which they all grew up in adds an extra element of vibrancy. The highlight moment for every audience member was the family portrait. They come together, bickering and fighting to take a picture for one last time as the four generations. We see the brutal, harsh forms of love each mother has presented to their daughter together in one room.
Overall, Shipway addresses topics of motherhood, identity, choice and culture. As an audience we travel with the cast through each generation and leave questioning our own relationships as well as cultural hardships some face.