Motherhood Out Loud celebrates motherhood, and indeed parenthood, in all of its diverse incarnations, at every stage of life. Presented by Trustus Theatre off-site in Columbia Children’s Theatre’s chaotically festive and charming performance space at Richland Mall (while CCT is producing a high-flying children’s musical production of Mary Poppins at Eau Claire High School), it’s a welcome collaboration between two of the Midlands’ most prolific professional arts organizations.
The play consists of 20 brief vignettes written by a roster of 13 mainly female authors, including Pulitzer winner Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart), Annie Weisman (whose television career includes writing and producing credits on Desperate Housewives and Dead Like Me), Lisa Loomer (co-author of the screenplay for Girl, Interrupted), and Michele Lowe, who composed seven of the pieces.
Director Martha Hearn Kelly has cast three women of varying ages and body types (Becky Hunter, Katrina Blanding and Felicia Bulgozdy) as Actors A, B and C, who took on the personas of a dozen or more characters each at a performance last weekend. Some scenes were true monologues told to the audience, while others involved narration by a principal figure who then interacted with one or more of the others.
Joseph Eisenreich, as Actor D, appeared as assorted husbands and doctors, and then shined in two solo pieces, as an adult son caring for an elderly mother, and as one half of a gay couple employing the services of both an egg donor and a surrogate mother for their eagerly anticipated child. I especially enjoyed his proficiency at suggesting the mother’s voice as he recounted the former story, and his witty bon mots in the latter, observing that he and his partner had “been together for eight years — that’s 56 in hetero time.”
In general, most of Hunter’s characters were written as sharper, more sarcastic, and more down-to-earth than the norm. These were brought to life hilariously via her customary, Lauren Bacall-like dry delivery. As one new mother, she confessed, “I love my kid, but sometimes I wish I’d met him under different circumstances.”
Blanding, more often employed on stage to hit soaring high notes in soulful anthems, drew the widest range of roles, including a 12-year-old interviewing her great-grandmother about motherhood for a school project, a Muslim mother of a teenager, and the laid-back mom of an Afghanistan-bound soldier who commemorates the event with matching mother-and-son tattoos.
Bulgozdy’s scenes, including the story of a little boy who wants to dress as Queen Esther for a Purim celebration, were the most detailed, as if they had been excerpted from full-length dramas. As a result, she was able to display some finely realized and nuanced acting, although these moments didn’t conclude as tidily with the snappy punch line or resolution found in many of the other tales.
I suspect that one’s own life experiences may influence which components and anecdotes one might appreciate most. For me, Blanding’s nightmares of potentially tragic news from the warfront were the most compelling and riveting, while Hunter’s concluding explanation of the inexplicable — the experience of motherhood — was the most deeply touching and profound. Other portions of the play tended to drag a little, but this may have stemmed from the absence of an intermission. A run-time of 100 minutes was announced, but with laughter, applause and scene changes set to a lively compilation of Motown hits, I’d estimate the full experience was at least 10 minutes longer.
As director, Kelly had to contend with a limited space in which to block her cast, and a script that was heavy on narrative but light on action. In general, she succeeded in inspiring moving performances even when the scene itself was fairly static. Sam Hetler’s scenic design was once again a triumph of abstract minimalism, consisting of 13 multi-colored cubes, some of which were manipulated into service as various chairs and benches; others were mounted on a rear wall, and functioned as easily accessible storage for a variety of hand props. Lauren Sherr’s complementing lighting design then illuminated the set with vivid shades of purple and green. With the addition of plenty of black masking on either side, the overall effect of the regular Trustus mainstage was recreated, just scaled down in size.
This was the type of small-cast, simple-set play that might otherwise have been produced in the Trustus Black Box venue, but the CCT performance space offers twice as much seating, plus the opportunity to reach out to a different demographic in a different part of town. Note however that while the themes presented are universal, there is some R-rated language — mainly exclamations in the context of the pain of childbirth — that makes this a show for adults, and possibly mature teens.
Overall, Motherhood Out Loud is a nice, pleasant, little theatrical choice for a moms’, dads’, or couple’s night out.
What: Motherhood Out Loud
Where: Columbia Children’s Theatre, 3400 Forest Dr. (inside Richland Mall)
When: Through Aug. 10
Cost: $25 ($20 seniors, military and students)
More: 803-254-9732, trustus.org