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Entertaining stream of drama and humor off-Broadway in stories of 'Motherhood Out Loud'
NEW YORK (AP) ' The subject of mothers touches everyone in some way, which makes the new play "Motherhood Out Loud" particularly appealing.
Although there are multiple authors, the piece has been fashioned into a cohesive, nicely balanced, funny and touching pastiche, covering many aspects of modern motherhood in a series of wonderfully entertaining vignettes.
Contributing authors to the breezy Primary Stages production, which opened Tuesday night off-Broadway at 59E59 Theaters, are Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West.
Four actors skillfully perform an engaging collection of 19 brief monologues and scenes, which director Lisa Peterson has tamed into an airy, sophisticated stream that mines both drama and humor from the various works.
Lowe wrote the very funny sketches that kick off each segment and also wrote one of the more touching scenes, "Queen Esther," in which Randy Graff heart-wrenchingly details a fond mother's concern about how to support her young son who wants to publicly wear dresses. Graff is also sardonically funny as a too-awake new mother of a "sleep terrorist" in Berman's "Next to the Crib."
Some age-old problems are explored, such as negotiating the need for help vs. autonomy between a new mother and her own mother, in "Squeeze, Hold, Release," written by West and touchingly enacted by the very talented Saidah Arrika Ekulona. Ekulona also strongly enacts the terrible fears of a proud mom whose son has joined the military, in Goldberg's poignant "Stars and Stripes."
"New in the Motherhood" by Loomer features wryly perky Mary Bacon as an outsider-type mom of a 3-year-old boy, who feels she's been "sentenced to five to ten years in the park." Smoking clove cigarettes while watching her son play, she makes comedic, ineffectual efforts to emulate and fit in with the other mothers on her park bench. Musing that she loves her son, she adds wistfully, "But sometimes I wish we'd met under different circumstances."
James Lecesne is very effective as a gay father recounting the birth of his child via a lesbian surrogate in a piece by Pennette. Lecesne charms again in Cale's touching "Elizabeth," portraying a divorced man who's moved back home and finds he is switching parent-child roles with his increasingly addled mother (Lecesne again).
Henley has provided a tart story about a plain-speaking great-grandmother who admits she "didn't like all my children" and snaps out comments like, "I'm very old. It doesn't allow me to be superficial." Rebeck's affecting "Baby Bird" spells out some of the stupid things people unthinkingly say to mothers of adopted children.
The scenes swirl across Rachel Hauck's coolly spare set, with Jan Hartley's projections and Emily Hubley's charming animation bouncing across brightly lit color blocks. The effective mixture of well-acted humor, drama and thoughtful observations by the writers makes for a thoroughly enjoyable show; the great variety of issues facing mothers comes across loud and clear.