“They killed her last night.” These were the first words Michael Griffith said to The Catholic Weekly after his play, The Magnolia Tree premiered in La Mama Theatre, Melbourne last month, the newspaper reports.
The Magnolia Tree centres around three disconnected siblings – Jack (Ezra Bix), Vicki (Helen Hopkins) and Deb (Rohana Hayes) – who have come together to choose a nursing home for their mother, who is suffering from severe dementia and has been largely unresponsive for years.
The mood takes a sharp turn when Jack suggests they eschew the nursing home and put their mother out of her misery – that night.
At first repulsed by the idea, Jack’s arguments slowly convince the dysfunctional trio to accept it may be “for the best”. The play reaches a climax when Vicki, still racked with indecision, pauses at the edge of the staircase that leads to their mother’s room.
At this point the actors freeze. It is time for the audience to become involved.
The play has two endings: One where Vicky ends the life of her mother, and one where she does not. The audience must decide.
“I was wondering which way to end the play,” Griffith said, “because both endings were powerful, and then I thought, ‘why don’t I leave the answer up to the audience?’ In that way they can test their own morality,” he said.
Three days before opening night, he was confident the audience would choose life. “I really think they will choose life. Most people would think about [euthanasia], and maybe even be tempted by the money. But, we are Christian-based, no not even Christian, we are humans. And as humans we don’t kill our mums,” he said.
Yet, Griffith was proven wrong, again and again. On the first night, the audience of 40 overwhelmingly voted to kill the mother.
“I’m stunned,” he said. “I really thought death wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Ending Mum: audiences vote to kill at The Magnolia Tree in Melbourne (Catholic Weekly)