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Secrets of a Soccer Mom

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Secrets of a Soccer Mom
Caralyn Kozlowski, Deborah Sonnenberg, and Nancy Ringham.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

There's no obvious hint that Alison, Lynn, and Nancy, the fretting sideliners of the new play Secrets of a Soccer Mom, are religious women. They do, though, have a Bible. It may be colored yellow and black and titled Soccer for Dummies, but make no mistake: this is a sacred text. One can't help but wonder from watching this pleasant but pedestrian evening if author Kathleen Clark has granted a copy of Playwriting for Dummies a permanent place on her own nightstand.

That would explain why every event, every joke, and every scene seems to have come straight from Dramatic Construction 101, with no pesky added filigree that might threaten to challenge the titular target demographic. Let's review:

1. Make the characters alike but different? Check. Alison (Caralyn Kozlowski), Lynn (Deborah Sonnenberg), and Nancy Ringham (Nancy) are all suburban (you guessed it!) soccer moms, who have gathered together to watch and participate in a weekend parents-and-children match. They're all at odds with life, love, and expectations of happiness, but Alison is in her 20s and uncertain, Lynn is in her 30s and harried but determined, and Nancy is in her 40s and forlorn for the life behind her.

2. Include a theme statement? No question. It takes a while to get to it, but it rings out loud and clear when it arrives: "How can you be trapped by what you love?" Each of the women must come to terms with the choices they've made and the ones they're facing, so expressly stating this makes their choices easier to quantify.

3. In a small play, combinations are important? Yep. A simple three-character play such as this one allows for only four configurations of multiple performers: all together, or any of three couplings. Clark exercises each, giving the trio plenty of time to bounce off of each other, but never shying away from a chance to put one of the ladies' children in distress long to give the other two an important heart-to-heart.

4. Embrace the unexpected and the salacious? Oh yes. Someone's having an affair! Someone's jealous of someone else's abilities! And you'll never guess which is the most voracious sex hound - it's not who you think!

You get the idea. Despite the Enquirer-style bullet-point plotting, there's absolutely nothing offensive in Secrets of a Soccer Mom; it pushes all the right, safe buttons. I'll admit that I laughed a few times, and I was engaged enough in the three and their lace-light conflict (will the mothers beat their kids in the game, or will they give into their nesting instincts?) to have a perfectly decent 90 minutes - not counting an unscheduled intermission caused by a light board failure. (I didn't even mind waiting for the show to resume!)

There's nothing halfway original here, however. Nothing to give young, single men (like me) valuable insights into the female mind; nothing to give married men a greater understanding of their partner; nothing to give children new respect for the parents they probably take for granted. It's an ideal date piece for couples who don't want to be troubled with potentially divisive conversation topics, during or after. And it's a marvelous showcase for Kozlowski and Ringham, who use every opportunity they're provided to display their warmth, versatility, and brightly polished comic timing. (Sonnenberg is too plasticly forceful as workaholic Lynn.)

But neither Clark nor director Judith Ivey, reuniting after their work together last season on the senior citizen romance Southern Comforts, convince us that these underrepresented women deserve to hold court, even in a worry-free comedy like this one. Maybe they're underrepresented because there's not much new for them to say onstage, unless a playwright is willing to assess their voting patterns? Come to think of it, that might make a fascinating play this election cycle. But it's not the one Clark has written. The only secret she reveals here is that these soccer moms have no secrets worth spilling.


Secrets of a Soccer Mom
Snapple Theater, 210 West 50th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Ticketmaster