Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Mom's The Word 3 couples the riotous & poignant
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Launching grown kids is nothing a bit of wine-&-weed can't cure for these Vancouver moms. 
Emily Cooper photo. 
From the footlights : Five clever and assertive actor playwrights do a biographical mise en scene for the third time of their lives as Vancouver Moms. As previously, the show's a skitchy vaudeville format with fun the chief focus. The original MTW in 1993 dealt with the women as new moms facing existential challenges such as dancing in the supermarket checkout while clutching a kid with poopy nappies.

Ten years later it was the moms and their kids facing teen-age-hood and all those attendant horrors in MTW#2. Now they're back for the world premiere of Round 3 : the kids are either bounding out the front door seeking self-actualization -or- boomeranging back home aghast at the void before them. 

MTW3 is part wise-crack funny-making, part poignant assessment of life's second half. It includes responding to a hubby's early onset Alzheimer's [Jill Daum is wife of Spirit of the West frontman John Mann]; serial pained reflections on a divorce both bloody & bitter; dealing with a son who, sadly, is a millennial version of a Peter Pan Lost Boy. No question life is often more raw than ribald or side-stiching funny. But life, too, that for these moms is always heart-rending, earthy, affecting.

How it's all put together :  The show's model is "The Ed Sullivan Show" meets "Laugh-In" meets "This Hour Has 22 Minutes". Some skits, lots of autobiographical joke-swapping, a coupla tunes lip-synched, even a game show thrown in for hellry.

The five playwright actors -- Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams -- are certain they've provided their kids roots but they aren't 100% sure how well the wings will fly for their little beasties. Now they kvetch about their children's partners, surreptitiously spy on them "out there", sneak into their new digs to check out what secrets lie behind closed doors.

Rain is sometimes outer weather, sometimes inner, and an umbrella can be a parachute, too.
Emily Cooper photo

What the show brings to the stage : Through humour and pathos and the endless variety of the human condition and experience we exit the theatre having laughed and cried and done some self-reflective thinking, too.  Far too many quotable quotes to rhyme off -- from complaints about a dry vagina to claims of "unabashed glee" that the kids have left home. 

Best perhaps from Alison aghast at seeing her middle age spread under her house-painting stained sweat suit gear in a store window : "I can no longer pull off shabby chic, now I'm shabby shit!" or perhaps Deborah Williams' threat that hubby Bruce is "one fuck-up away from a piteous non-negotiable death". In all, a tonne of one-liners designed to make us chortle and widdle : divorcee Barbara Pollard's perpetual hornies requited at last in the local rec centre hot tub surely one of the best bits. 

But no small quantum of serious commentary in all this as well. While her monologues struck me as a bit overextended, Jill Daum's learning to cope with husband John's Alzheimer decline was nevertheless touching stuff. Still, she caught it all best with a single one-liner late in the show. As she drew a chalk line on the stage deck she lamented & brought forth my tears : "When you become the caregiver, you are no longer the lover." Oh my. Such is life, such is love. 

Deborah's frank admission of suicide ideation, meanwhile, also struck a nerve in me, hard, just like the opening scene of The Big Chill did back in the day. When suicide is part of your life story, particularly more than once, references to it can't help but hurt even when she tries funnin' with the subject.

Production values that enhance :  Pam Johnson's U-Haul cardboard box set draped in muslin worked exceedingly well, the boxes servings as fridge, dishwasher, skype screen, ex-husband's imagined body to stab. Some may think it a bit of a trite statement about both kids and wannabe empty-nesters who are perpetually on the move, lit.-&-fig, but it worked to this eye.

The stage business and blocking of these 30-year friends by Director Wayne Harrison worked well indeed, with the imaginary 4th wall broken through constantly. Harrison -- who has worked on all the MTW shows, including international mounts -- deserves kudos for his timing and over-all pace of the show despite some longish monologue moments. 

Freshman projection designer Kate De Lorme earns a shout-out for her clever use of techno shots thrown up to enhance the stage action and contemporize the proceedings. The skydive GoPro shot of Robin Nichol was priceless.

Pete Seeger first told us how little boxes entrap us all -- but they also mobilize and liberate.
Emily Cooper photo
Acting pin-spots : In Act 1 particularly the majority of spicy choice lines were given over both to Ms. Williams and Ms. Pollard -- the former whinging on about husband Bruce, the latter grousing ad nauseam about her ex-hubby and his trophy girl friend in the Bahamas. In Act 2 Alison Kelly doing her mary-jane puff-in and gigglery was pure hoot.

Who gonna like : Someone once called parenting "a lifetime exercise in little feats" [sic]. Godknows those little feets / feats all add up their mileage over the decades. As a dad with two generations of children -- 25 years apart -- I related warmly, sentimentally, but also viscerally to all the cleverly-wrought shenanigans being aped and yakked over by this talented bunch.

Director Harrison notes that decades back they started as "a group of Vancouver women, mothers all, who did Saturday morning 'writing therapy' to fathom their lives as parents, partners, and, yes, sexual beings, and how to recover from the pain caused by treading bare-footed on a Lego brick." 

The context has morphed -- they now tread on beer bottle caps and roach clips -- but the theme of Momism has not changed much from Philip Wylie's 1942 blockbuster Generation of Vipers. Moms are moms, they change not much. They love, they hate, they hurt, they embrace, they cheer, they love some more and ever more again.

For a dexterous and quick-witted evening's trip down memory lane -- and a peep around the corner of what life's next lurch down the road might look like for you -- MTW3 is a lively local version of "All My Children" that is a whole swack more fun than any t.v. soap opera could ever be.  

P.S. Tonight's performance -- just another drippy Tuesday in Raincouver -- was nearly a full-house. I conclude tix are evaporating quickly despite our soggy clime ! 

Particulars : Presented by Arts Club Theatre, Granville Island Stage. Run extended 2 weeks to May 20th due to ticket demand. Tickets via www.artsclub.com or by phone to ACBO @ 604.687.1644.  Run-time 2 hours, 20 minutes including intermission.

Production team : Director Wayne Harrison.  Set & Costume Designer Pam Johnson. Lighting Designer Marsha Sibthorpe.  Sound & Projection Designer Kate De Lorme.  Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs.  Assistnat Stage Manager April Starr Land,.

Playwrights / performers : Jill Daum. Alison Kelly. Robin Nichol. Barbara Pollard. Deborah Williams. 

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