KPBS AIRDATE: September 02, 2005
It’s not a great week for onstage mothers. They may appear in some interesting plays, but the characters are no paean to maternalism.
Three plays – three destructive maters. By far the strongest piece – both technically and dramatically – was “Munched,” which premiered at the Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Playwrights. San Franciscan Kim Porter gave us an intriguing and harrowing tale about Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, a psychiatric disorder that compels parents to create, fabricate or induce disease and disability in their children – to get attention for themselves. As Porter designed her, Marybeth may or may not be guilty. As KPBS’ own Kathi Diamant played her, she’s a fascinating, multi-faceted woman of intense emotions who says she’s been grossly misunderstood. Katie, marvelously portrayed by Jeannine Marquie, is now 31 and hasn’t seen her mother for 25 years, since Marybeth was hauled off to prison. Under the expert, unfussy direction of Emily Cornelius, the tension builds and our uncertainty grows. The performances were terrific, with outstanding support by Monique Gaffney in a delicious array of roles, and Brian Taraz, as all the fairly unsavory men who complete the puzzling and disturbing picture.
In “Flesh and Blood,” a semi-autobiographical one-act by recent San Diego transplant Karen Paull, the birth mother is a manic-depressive street-person and the adoptive mother is a selfish harridan. Poor hapless Lisa is caught in-between, though she hasn’t seen her natural mom since birth. But blood ties trump all. This Electra Theatre Company offering was a sellout in San Francisco; director Karen Berthel favors an experimental, Fellini-esque approach. Both play and production veer wildly from the didactic to the surreal, the gut-wrenching to the absurd. Multiple realities co-exist, and song and dance numbers punctuate or interrupt the action. It doesn’t always work, but it’s an imaginative and promising effort, with a particularly compelling performance by Leslie Gold as the wild-eyed and devoted bipolar birth-mother.
In “The Day After Yesterday,” written and directed by Kristina Meek, the mother has a dual role — as demeaning matriarch and the face of Fear in her daughter’s nightmares. At GB Productions, Summer Golden overplays the maternal meddling but cackles amusingly as Fear itself. Kathleen Massé and Robby Lyons are thoroughly believable as the workaholic daughter and her slacker mate, who get caught in a time warp during a World Wide Day Off. Stephanie Jackson is spot-on as a smarmily smiley TV host. The short play goes on beyond a natural and potentially provocative end-point, and the long blackouts and sluggish scene-changes unnecessarily extend the evening.
But these are three mother-daughter pairs that may just keep you up at night.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.