The Mystery of Her Mother

Ellen Snortland’s name alone is enough to get anyone’s attention (“with a name like that she’d better be good,” the writer, performer and human rights activist likes to say), but growing up with a silent, stone-faced Norwegian-American mother from North Dakota, Snortland faced the ultimate challenge: getting her mother to laugh.  Snortland, who lives in Altadena, California, and who will perform her 2009 Pulitzer Prize-nominated one-woman show “Now That She’s Gone” this weekend in Carmel, says that she turned herself inside-out in a lifelong attempt to draw her mother out of her shell.  Her show, which she has performed to acclaim throughout the world, including the Edinburgh and New York Fringe Festivals, is a funny and poignant exploration of that relationship, inspired, as she says, by “the universal hunger to be understood by a parent.”

“Now That She’s Gone” has been described as “Garrison Keillor meets Lily Tomlin,” a memoir piece featuring sex, drugs, Eleanor Roosevelt and lutefisk.  In a recent phone interview, Snortland says that when she began writing the piece, it was a way for her to unravel a relationship that had mystified her her entire life.

“Just consider what this one woman’s life was like,” Snortland says of her mother.  “She only ever kissed one man, and barely.  I was the opposite.  I did all kinds of outrageous things, trying to get her to react.”  Straddling the two sides of a divide marked by the women’s liberation movement, significant social and cultural changes, as well as the mysteries of personality and the generation gap, Snortland and her mother’s lives could not have seemed more different.  Yet they found common ground in their passion for human rights; Eleanor Roosevelt was a particular focus of Snortland’s mother.

In the course of writing the play, Snortland also uncovered information that helped her see her mother in a different, more compassionate light.  “This show is not about holding grudges,” she says.  “It really heals families.  As an example, a man in his 70s came up to me after the show and held my hand as tears streamed down his face.  He’d never been able to forgive his father until he saw my show. I am profoundly moved by the number of e-mails I get from people from all walks of life who have told me that seeing my show has helped them heal old family wounds.”

Snortland is bringing “Now That She’s Gone” to the Cherry Center after a conversation with her friend Riane Eisler, international peace activist and resident of Carmel, who had read the play and loved it but had not been able to see it.  Snortland is always happy for the opportunity to perform her show.

“I just did it thirty days in a row in Scotland,” she says.  “It’s so fun to perform, I really sail with it.  It’s so yummy!  I love the feeling of being completely present with the audience.  I don’t have to worry about me.”

“Now That She’s Gone,” at the Carl Cherry Center, 4th and Guadeloupe, Carmel, August 24 at 7:30 pm, Saturday August 25 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday August 26 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm.  Call (831) 624-7491 or visit the Center’s website for tickets and information.