Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Motherhood Out Loud: A Passel of Dramatic and Comedic Monologues and Sketches by Fourteen Writers
Also see Bob's review of Our Town
The entire cast (Nicole Callender, Laura Ekstrand, Scott McGowan and Harriet Trangucci) is so delightful in its enthusiasm and comic timing that there is pleasure in its very presence. The cast is so powerful in its dramatic intensity that it elevates the dramatic monologues/sketches. Harry Patrick Christian directs with the aplomb which he brings to his performances.
Motherhood is loosely organized into five "chapters," each beginning with a "fugue" in which the cast members, each playing a parent, repeatedly rotate in relating in bits and pieces, an incident concerning a common subject. These "fugues," all credited to Michelle Lowe, are titled "Fast Births," "First Day," "Sex Talk," "Stepping Out" and "Coming Home." These bridges are unnecessary, for the flow of the contributions is sequential through various stages of parenting; several of them fail to fit neatly into the categories; and the style and quality of the writing is so varied that each piece plays as a standalone. The "fugues" themselves are painfully trite, tired and, at times, redundant. Additionally, they tend to overwhelm the earnestness of the serious pieces. Specifically, "Fast Births" trots out in humorous fashion every tale and gag involving the difficulty and pain that women suffer in childbirth, and concludes as the babies slip out into the world, with each mother exclaiming "holy shit." The production's concluding piece, "My Baby" by Ann Weisman, is performed as a "fugue." Also about childbirth, it is aggravatingly redundant.
"Baby Bird" by Theresa Rebeck, and "New in the Motherhood" by Lisa Loomer are beyond reproach. The Rebeck is a sensitive account of the strength and wisdom that a Caucasian mother must muster in the face of the insensitivity of other adults and some children toward her adoption of a daughter from China. The Loomer centers on a jaded, new to the playground mother who will have to make an attitude adjustment if she is to fit in with the other playground mothers. In these playlets, Harriet Trangucci crisply and sharply cuts to the core of two very different, distinctive women.
Ultimately disappointing, but valuable and thought provoking is "Queen Esther" by the aforementioned Michele Lowe. Laura Ekstrand relates the situation of her "different" ten-year-old son who likes to wear "princess" dresses. The boy knows who he is and is determined to follow his feelings no matter what the repercussions from his schoolmates. He is now set on attending his synagogue's Megillah reading and Purim celebration dressed as Queen Esther. Lowe nicely sets up a situation fraught with difficulty and pain, then quickly wraps up matters with a bit of comforting pabulum instead of dealing substantively with the situation in which she has placed mother and son. Lowe might consider expanding "Queen Esther" into a full length play.
Marco Pennette's "If We're Using a Surrogate, How Come I'm the One with the Morning Sickness" is far better than its clunky, jokey title. Here, a gay adoptive father sensitively portrayed by Scott McGowan deals with the insensitivity of a department store Santa who doesn't know or care that there are families in which one of the parents is not a woman. "Stars and Stripes" by Jessica Goldberg provides the opportunity for Nicole Callender to move us as the mother of a serviceman who faces death in Afghanistan. However, her gimmicky, florid monologue undermines her achievement.
This leaves six additional earnest pieces which, are underdeveloped, mundane, and/or lacking in point and clarity, as well as three minor comedic sketches.
Motherhood Out Loud provides a strong showcase for the artists of Dreamcatcher Rep, New Jersey's valuable and talented actors' theatre.
Motherhood Out Loud continues performances (Evenings: Thursday - Saturday 8 PM/ Matinees: Sunday 2 PM) through May 11, 2014, at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, New Jersey 07901; Box Office: 908-514-9654; 800-838-3006 (Brown Paper Tickets)/ on-line: www.dreamcatcherrep.org.
Motherhood Out Loud Conceived by Susan R. Rose and Joan Stein; Written by Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Anne Weisman, and Cheryl L. West; directed by Harry Patrick Christian