If there is one way to describe the recent work of Isabella Rossellini, it is as a series of acts of generosity. In her series, Green Porno, as well as a one woman show of the same name she also performed at BAM, Rossellini shared some rather idiosyncratic knowledge of the mating habits of animals. In this new production she appeared in at BAM, she summoned her mother, Ingrid Bergman, with the aid of Jeremy Irons. This summoning was aided by film clips, both from Bergman’s private home movies and her many screen appearances, as well as Bergman’s own words from an out of print memoir. Such wonderful surprises as Bergman’s comic acting as an energetic nun in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) and sublime boogying in Cactus Flower (1969) as well as her more iconic performance in Casablanca (1942) were showcased. Yet, there was something strangely effective to this production and the portrait of Bergman that was offered.
As with the Green Porno production, this performance was distinctly hard to classify. While Rossellini and Irons mostly stuck to reading Bergman’s own words from scripts, neither could be said to be ‘portraying’ Bergman. They were most simply allowing Bergman the chance to speak through them, both excitedly sharing her words with the assembled crowd. Bergman’s life was not a strictly happy one. She lost both of her parents early in her life. In a particularly poignant moment of the evening, Rossellini read Bergman’s recollection of first encountering her lost mother in home movies. Rossellini engaged with her lost mother’s image and words in this production.
Almost every time something particularly juicy or funny from Bergman’s memoirs or a film clip drew a notable reaction from the audience, Rossellini would quietly look up and share in our affection for this woman, her mother. The production showed Bergman as something else than just icon. She was shown as a mother, a wife, a person who went through great suffering and who finally lived a joyful life, using the fullness of emotion to create full characters. At the start and end of the production, Bergman was quoted about feeling a kinship to birds. Rossellini has of course carried this fixation of her mother even further in her own work for animal rights. In these moments, one saw a beautiful continuity between mother and daughter, life and work. This was a special and unique night of remembering and of life.