Last week I went to see Primary Stages Motherhood Out Loud, which opens today at the 59E59 theatre here in NYC. MOL is an uneven series of vignettes about – you guess it – motherhood. From childbirth to college, to becoming the parent to your own parents, it covers the experiences all parents have.
And that’s the problem.
It’s not that I don’t want to “relate” to what I’m seeing on stage, it’s just that I’d also like it to make me realize I relate to something I ddin’t quite know I did before. I guess it’s Andy Warhol‘s theory of the applied to the : Art is something that makes you look at familiar things in new ways.
Well, they got the familiar part.
Yes, I can relate to the story about about the callous anesthesiologist administering an epidural. Yes, I chuckled when a new mom called her baby a “sleep terrorist.” I completely “got” the mother who announced she hated the playground. (I did too) But none of the comedy surprised me. None of it made me laugh about something I never realized was funny, or ridiculous. It felt a little bit “been there done that.”
Which was a bummer, because I got the tickets from my brand-spanking new affiliation with MamaDrama (full disclosure) and I wanted to like it more than I did. Thank goodness for the dramatic pieces which were much more consistent, and sometimes, downright wonderful.
You certainly can’t blame the actors for the show’s weaknesses: three women and one man play all the parts: Mary Bacon, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Randy Graff, amd James Lecesne. They all do a terrific job jumping from part to part, from playwright to playwright. (The show is actually a series of vignettes from several different writers.)
But it’s uneven. Because while the comedy scenes felt a bit cliched – the more serious scenes shine Michelle Lowe’s Queen Esther, about a gender-confused little boy, captures the pain and love of a mother for her son. And hey- there’s Michele Lowe again with Graduation Day Fugue, a moving, subtle monologue about an empty nester. (Lowe should have stuck with drama, however, her “comic” Bridal Shop piece falls flat.)
“If we’re using a Surrogate, how come I’m the one with Morning Sickness” is a wonderful comic/serious turn for James Lecesne, written by Marco Pennette. It’s about gay couple and their struggle to have a baby. And it’s just the kind of humor I like – it’s funny, but twinged with sadness. The father is self aware – he knows when his “inner asshole” comes out. He knows both his gay and his straight friends will look at him funny. But he’s a parent. Lescensne does it again with a comic/tragic turn in Elizabeth, by David Cale. In this piece, a grown son becomes the “parent” to his aging mother.
So bottom line: you’ll laugh. I did. But you’ll laugh in a sit-com way — not in a “John Stewart is so insightfully funny and I never looked at it that way” way. And you’ll tear up — not from cliches, but from good writing (kudos to Jessica Goldberg for Stars and Stripes about a military mother, movingly, angrily, lovingly performed by Ekulona.), good performances, and moments that make you say “how true. And I never looked at it that way before.”
Warhol might even have been proud.