Brenda Kapowitz (Tracy-Ann Oberman) prepares breakfast for her petulant youngest son, answers phone calls and presses him to dress for school. This is a normal domestic scene until Jason (Matt Goldberg) pleads with unnerving desperation to stay at home. Only when Brenda briskly ushers him out the door into a barrage of camera flashes and barking journalists do we understand that all is not well.
This is Mother of Him. Brenda’s oldest son Matthew (Scott Folan) stands accused of raping 3 women and the family are now the centre of a media frenzy leading up to his sentencing. But this is not a ‘did-he-didn’t-he’ story. Matthew Kapowitz is a rapist.
Yet this play focuses on Brenda: her loyalties, concentric identities and the unimaginable turmoil of reconciling the love of her son with an unspeakable crime.
Matthew, under house arrest, remains unseen at first, hanging like a suffocating shadow over the home as Brenda and Matthew’s lawyer (Simon Hepworth) discuss the case. When he eventually appears, he is unassuming, smiling, and chillingly, almost endearing.
Characters drift around the monochrome set like sharks in a tank. They answer grey phones, pour milk from grey cartons and the furniture is featureless grey boxes. Matthew’s home is transformed into the prison he will soon occupy. The family photo that he keeps in his room is an incongruously bright item and the most unreal thing about the set.
Folan struggles with his Canadian accent breaking the flow whilst Goldberg portrays an energetic, naïve Jason; who idolises his big brother yet has been shielded from the severity of the situation.
Oberman is the standout. She lunges between fierce maternal protection, hysteria, and profound sadness. She hovers over conversations coddling, scolding, but rarely having frank sensitive conversations with her children about their bleak reality. As her trust in Matthew deteriorates, we see Brenda desolate; a fourth victim. She seeks comfort in her Jewish identity, but even the hopeful lights of her Chanukah candles mirror the merciless cameras lurking outside
Matthew’s girlfriend and father each assume blame and anger ripples through the crowd. So often we read articles framing rapists as ‘troubled young men’ who ‘made a mistake’ absolving them of responsibility. To hear a young woman blaming herself for a rape because she wanted to wait before having sex, infuriatingly demonstrates how women are encouraged to view their bodies as commodities for men.
When Matthew’s lawyer questions him too forcefully he exclaims ‘what about what I want?!’ and I nearly snap my pen in half. How ironic that he still retains respect for his own consent.
Scenes are divided by radio broadcasts with DJs discussing the case and topical news from the late 90’s when the play is set. Sexist remarks about Monica Lewinsky and immature jokes about Viagra paint a picture of a time where women are ‘asking for it’, and ‘boys will be boys’.
A DJ remarks that by attention shifting to Brenda “[She is] taking those womens’ experiences away from them”. I agree. The victims are named once; never seen, or heard. The play explores the struggle of a mother and her guilty son, but by extension humanises a rapist and robs the victims of any identity.
In a society where candid discussions of sexual assault are only recent and a rape testimony will not alter the employment prospects of a Justice of the Supreme Court, any narrative that prioritises the criminal’s identity over the victims’, feels insensitive.
For now this play and society leaves us despairing over our patriarchal world and the women left vulnerable to its devastating consequences.
Mother of Him is playing the Park Theatre until 26 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Park Theatre website.