i will still be whole Response by Young Critic Claire Chelsea Bondzanga

A coming-of-age play… on a mother?

Is there an age restriction when it comes to coming-of-age? Not in the legal sense where 18 is ‘the age’, but in the “settling into yourself” sense. Some will tell you “yes”, the mistakes, uncertainty and all things of a weary nature are intrinsic to youth and [should be] intrinsic to youth only. Others will refute. They will say that irrespective of time or experience, journeys are to be had throughout our lifetime. We should all be allowed to fall, cry and get back up without penitence. Negligence by an adult is vilified, but in the same breath, negligence by a child is excused. Let’s be clear, comparing the life of an adult to the life of a child is like comparing the number one to the number two: there’s no point, they’re completely different. I am not trying to compare both demographics, but rather seek to understand the possibility of finding oneself when the world already expects you to be found. Ava Wong Davies explores this concept of self-discovery in i will still be whole (when you rip me in half), playing at the Bunker Theatre. There are only two protagonists: one of them traverses societal boundaries, but to what peril of the other?

The play pits the existence of a distance mother and daughter side by side, exposing their cuts that become wounds, and their wounds that become scars. The daughter parties, laments, hurts, and retaliates: her mother’s abandonment has left a hole that she continues to come to terms with. However, the character that interests me the most is The Mother. Not being one myself, I find them endearing yet somewhat troubled by the purpose they are expected to fulfil. Now, what happens when you no longer want to be a mother? People may wonder how you can abandon God’s greatest gift to be… happier? They may question why your child isn’t your joy? Davies reminds us that we are not defined by a word or title. A mother is a mother. A woman is a woman. You are you and I am me and that should be entirely enough. When responsibilities are marketed as obligations, there is no room for error. No space for self-love. “You” become secondary, and “they” take first place. With Davies’ play, the audience watches on as a mother scars and a woman heals, without total consequence. Her life is filled with an existentiality that is freeing, her questions may not have answers, but she can ask them all the same. She says, “I started to run, not away from you but… towards myself”. Perhaps the “you” is her daughter, whom she renders blameless for the circumstance their lives have fallen into. Or perhaps the “you” is herself, a planted seed rooted into the winter ground, holding on until the springtime, when she will reach towards the sky. Yet, as we revel in this new entity, we have but to turn our heads slightly and see a young soul frustrated by a puzzle she cannot piece together. When they finally encounter, the Daughter erupts, letting out the millions of emotions left to brew unsupervised by the one who should’ve been supervising them. And then she abandons The Mother, who looks across an empty chair where her daughter sat minutes earlier. She seems disconnected. Unsure of how to react, what to do next. The audience can only look on in silence, wondering whether we were thoughtless, too narrow-minded. Davies leaves us with a final question. Can a mother come-of-age when her own daughter has not?

Read more Young Critic responses to the double-bill at the Bunker Theatre here