Mama: Theatre Review

I had the recent privilege of attending a dress rehearsal of Mama, Plan B Theatre Company’s World Premiere of a new play by Carleton Bluford. There are many reasons to see this show, apart from the obvious; you should always see everything Plan B does, all the time, always. That almost goes without saying.

But there are other reasons to see the play. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s poignant, and it’s superbly directed and acted. The play is about, well, mothers. Mamas. The terrific four-person cast move back and forth from serving a choral function, reciting famous ‘motherhood’ quotations, to monologues about various mothers that seem to have come from a Facebook plea for such stories, then acting out the vignettes about motherhood that are the spine of the play.

I am, as it happens, very fond of my own mother. I’m less fond of Bartlett’s-style quotations about motherhood. But there’s a grit and power to the vignettes that offset the occasional sentimentality of the quotations. That’s where the play really comes together, as we realize that the vignettes are not meant as real-life illustrations of the quotations, but as tough-minded counter-narratives. That’s the dramatic tension of the piece, between ideals of motherhood and reality. And the reality is, Moms aren’t perfect. But also, that Moms do remarkably well nonetheless.

One of the vignettes, for example, started with Dee-dee Darby-Duffin on the phone with her lover. Their conversation is frank and explicit; the man is coming over, and his intentions with her, and her intentions with her, are lasciviously clear. Her son (Cooper Howell) shows up, and reminds her that a representative from Brown University is coming over, to assess his candidacy for a full-ride scholarship to the school. Mom informs him that she has plans for that evening, and that those plans do not include cooking a nice dinner for some white woman. Not quite the perfect Mom, we might think. Except that, in the next scene, the woman from Brown (Liz Summerhays) does show up, and tells Mama that she can’t stay long–the decision has been made, the son will not receive the scholarship. The response approximates that of a she-grizzly bear with a cub in danger. It’s a terrific scene, about a Mom who comes through in the end.

The fourth actor in the cast is the equally terrific Latoya Rhodes, who shines in the one historical vignette of the piece, a pre-Civil War Harriet Tubman piece about the lengths African-American parents went to to protect their children amidst the horrors of slavery. But another vignette was marvelously comic, with Summerhays as a white woman joining a black family, and countering a prospective sister-in-law’s dismissal with sass and courage, while Mama plays cheerleader.

Some plays tell one sustained story; others, like Mama, are episodic. Preferences vary. I’m generally a ‘sustained story’ kinda guy, but I liked Mama very much indeed. It really is a ‘you’ll laugh, you’ll cry’ kind of piece. Go see it. Tickets are on sale here.

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