Saturday, February 26, 2011

'In Mother Words' Review

Amy Pietz, left, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, James Lecesne and Jane Kaczmarek star in
n Mother Words" at the Geffen Playhouse.

It's impossible to distill the concept of Motherhood with a Capital M down to one story -- or even two. With all of its highs and lows, complications and euphoric moments, questions and (mostly lack of) answers, Motherhood becomes like one of those frustrating pictures in which you have to practically cross your eyes to see a three-dimensional image. And even when you focus correctly and have the image perfectly in place, it is only fleeting -- and confusion returns almost instantly.

Lucky for Los Angeles theatergoers, "In Mother Words," a performance reading at the Geffen Playhouse on stage until May 1, is a clear-sighted glimpse into the many facets of Motherhood.

Conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and written by a host of playwrights, including Beth Henley and Theresa Rebeck, the show is composed of a series of vignettes that tackle everything from bringing home baby to a boy's love of dresses to first dates.

Reading from scripts on stage, the stars of the Lisa Peterson-directed show (Jane Kaczmarek, Amy Pietz, Saidah Arrika Ekulona and lone male James Lecesne) work together but sometimes alone in their short acts.

Because there is little to no staging, the actors must create a whole reality from their facial expressions, limited movements and voices (which are sometimes laced with Irish or even Arabic accents). For the most part, the actors succeed in creating worlds that are not visualized through props or sets on stage.

While there were a few verbal stumbles on opening night, when I attended with my own mom, the show's quick pace and engaging stories kept me focused as situations changed after only minutes.

In one vignette, Kaczmarek portrays a mother of a little boy who wanted to go as Queen Esther -- dress, barrette and all -- for Purim celebrations. Why didn't her little boy want to play with trucks and cars instead of high-heel shoes? What would everyone say at temple when she walked in with a boy dressed as a girl?

In another, Pietz plays a laid-back, smoking mom who meets two disapproving moms at the park. And, of course, her child is the one not playing nicely. Did she get invited for a playdate? Um, no.

Lecesne mines the humorous and touching elements of wanting to have a baby (er, "gay-bie,") with his male partner. When they find a surrogate mother, he keeps reminding the doctors to hand the baby to him first -- not the woman giving birth.

Ekulona, who was wonderful, tells the story of a mom whose son went off to war -- and how she imagined getting "the call" every day.

The stories ranged from laugh-out-loud funny to cringe-worthy to just plain sad. And as a mother myself, I was struck by how much I felt bonded to these stories -- stories that weren't even my own. What would I do in any of these situations? How would my strength and composure hold up? It was a roller coaster befitting Motherhood itself.

(Photo credit: Michael Lamont/Geffen Playhouse)

(Note: Media tickets provided)


Unknown said...

It was a great show! As a working mom the story that brought me to tears was the nanny and the the first steps. I was a mess! Great balance between laughter and sadness!

L.A. Story said...

I thought so, too! That was a great scene. Loved her Irish accent. :)


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