How to Kill a Houseplant - A Review by Hannah McGregor
How to Kill a Houseplant, written and performed by Chelsea Grace, is a performance that reflects on womanhood, motherhood, and everything that falls in-between them.
Over a series of five short videos, Grace’s character explores her relationship with motherhood – struggling with what it should be and what it can look like.
She does this through a series of monologues - often falling between spoken word, poetry, and performance art – addressed to her dying plant, through which she explores the different ways that being a mother can ‘go wrong’. Through different themes that tie motherhood to caring for a plant; not enough warmth, not enough light, over-fertilizing, becoming pot-bound, pest problems. Some of these are explored with real sensitivity and insight – my personal highlight being the pot-bound segment. In this video, she explores stagnation and fulfilment; a disorientating camera angle that flips from side to side truly feels restless, as Grace postulates to her plant about how to truly feel fulfilled when choosing any one path in life, whether that be a stable family life with two kids and a husband or travelling the world alone without a care. This segment really captures that ennui for our generation – a desire to do everything at once and nothing at all.
Grace captures these ideas with, well, grace. Her acting and devising on these subjects is stellar, as the audiences catches moments that feel truly personal and connective through her heartfelt monologues. The episodic nature of the performance gives the viewer time to reflect between each segment, something which works to the artist’s strength. A compiling of all these deep and emotional subjects as one would prove too mentally demanding on the viewer, especially as monologues, by nature, require more concentration from the audience than a traditional multi-person narrative. Framework and Grace seem to have landed on a perfect equilibrium for online monologue performance, giving the viewer just enough space to have them leaning in for more.
The text did leave me with some questions by the final video however; although it is implied that all of these things that may kill a plant can also hurt a human, the end ethos seems to be that these things do not to matter – however, when the viewer is staring at the dead plant Grace dedicates these speeches to, we are left to think that obviously they do matter. This slightly weakens Grace’s final point – that she can belong to herself – as while this is true, it doesn’t negate the other issues that she has explored beforehand. Despite this, it nevertheless remains a poignant finale to the emotional journey we have just witnessed.
Overall, Grace’s vision is charming and deeply emotional, and I still felt completely
taken with the honest, vulnerable exploration of what motherhood can mean to the next generation of care-givers. And reminded that I needed to water my houseplants.
This review was written by Hannah McGregor, as part of Framework Theatre's Theatre Writers Pilot Scheme.