Just as mothers and their children come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and temperaments, so too does the experience of motherhood. That is the premise of Motherhood Out Loud, a collection of short playlets about the joys, sorrows and perplexities of this singular state experienced by half the world's population, currently being performed by Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Oakes Center in Summit.
Conceived by Susan R. Rose and Joan Stein and directed by company member Harry Patrick Christian, Motherhood Out Loud is organized around five themes: Fast Births, First Day, Sex Talk, Stepping Out and Coming Home. The program features the work of Leslie Ayvazian, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Anne Weisman, Cheryl L. West and Brooke Berman, work that is both hilarious and heartbreaking and shatters the standard notions of what it means to be a mother. (Above, Laura Ekstrand and Scott McGowan)
Switching accents and stances as easily as scarves and jackets, Dreamcatcher company members Scott McGowan, Harriett Trangucci, Laura Ekstrand and Nicole Callendar assume multiple roles to convey the joys and sadness that come with being a parent. All do such a fine job that it is difficult to single any one out for superior work.
Ekstrand (left, with Nicole Callender, center, and Harriett Trangucci, right) is magnificent as the mom who deals with her son's wanting to dress up as Queen Esther for a Purim celebration ("Queen Esther" by Michele Lowe) and completely convincing as a woman who has to deal with her boyfriend's teenage children ("My Almost Family" by Luanne Rice). Trangucci nails it as the adoptive mother of a Chinese daughter ("Baby Bird" by Theresa Rebeck)) confronting the "minefields" of that role. She also conveys very well the angst of the mother whose an autistic son is going on his first date ("Michael's Date" by Claire LaZebnik). Hilariously, Callender shows that being a Muslim mother isn't very different from the rest of us ("Nooha's List" by Lameece Isaaq), but it's her role as the mother of a young soldier in Afghanistan ("Stars and Stripes" by Jessica Goldberg) that grabs the heart of everyone in the audience; preparing for the notice of her son's death, every day, is crippling and very poignant.
And McGowan's portrayal of the gay dad ("If We're Using a Surrogate, How Come I'm the One with Morning Sickness" by Marco Pennette) is spot on: With humor and truth, he prepares his young daughter for the "brave new world" where she will have to deal with people who want to know where her mommy is (left). And revealing the difficulties of dealing with an aging mother in "Elizabeth" by David Cale, McGowan warmly conveys the love that will help him (and her) get through it.
Each of the five sections is preceded by a dramatic fugue, wherein the four actors recount an aspect of the subject to come. Written by Michele Lowe, these funny yet serious snippets act as the perfect set-up for what follows. Director Christian wisely broke up the final piece, "My Baby" by Anne Weisman, into four parts (right) to bring the evening to a satisfactory end. The photographs of each actor's mother provide a lovely conclusion to an exciting performance.
Lighting by Zach Pizza signifies scene and mood changes; Laura Ekstrand's costumes—actually black pants/shirts/skirt—are transformed by the addition of a scarf, shawl, jacket or tee shirt; And Dave Maulbeck's Spartan scenery (really just a pair of boxes on a platform) provides a variety of minimal, though more than adequate, settings. Jeff Knapp's unobtrusive sound design further enhances the production.
Once again, Dreamcatcher Rep has brought to us the New Jersey Premiere of an important, albeit offbeat, work. Motherhood Out Loud reveals the comedy that accompanies the seriousness of life and celebrates the personal truths that span and unite generations. So whether you are a mother-to-be, a new mom, an empty-nester, a grandma or a great-grandmother—or the spouse, child or male friend of one of the above—you will enjoy yourself and think about Motherhood Out Loud long after you've left the theater. I know I have!
Motherhood Out Loud will be performed by Dreamcatcher Rep at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, through Sunday, May 11. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. For information and tickets, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online at www.dreamcatcherrep.org.