There are two groups of people in this world, mothers and the rest of us.
Oftentimes it is difficult for the second group to understand what makes a mother tick. Sometimes even a mother isn’t quite sure what makes her tick.
Simply put, any journey through the mysteries of the mother is a complex one, filled with perilous twists and turns and roads that seem to be headed toward a cliff, or headed nowhere.
Thank God then, for "Motherhood Out Loud" the magnificent production that opened Friday Night at Next Act Theatre.
There may well never have been a show on stage in Milwaukee that is more important in helping the rest of us unravel the Mystery of the Mother nor a show that more vividly holds up a mirror to mothers in the audience so they can clear their own heads about all the stuff that has to move through their huge brains.
This is a simple run of scenes created by 14 different playwrights. There are three of the finest actors in Wisconsin who play mothers and take us from the first moment they become mothers (hospital delivery room) to the time they become great grandparents. There is a guy (the always perfect Doug Jarecki) thrown in for a light bit of balance, but he’s mostly a gay guy who wants to have a child with a surrogate to join him and his partner as a family. It’s a funny scene that provides some political perspective.
But this night belongs to the mothers, three of the most outstanding actors in this city, Michelle Lopez-Rios, Deborah Staples and Tami Workentin.
The three women take the simple circular riser stage together at the opening of the play, with each describing, in alternating rhythm their experiences of birth and culminating in a joint "Holy Sh*t" as they look at the marvels cuddled in their arms. The wonder they have wrought.
From then on we are treated to a journey through stages of caring for a child, he first day together, growing up, the sex talk, graduation and the beginning of saying goodbye, marriage, wars, holidays and frustrations, loneliness, the first signs of fading and the wisdom of old age.
The three actors take turns - sometimes delivering monologues, sometimes having conversations with two or more on the stage, but most of the conversations are with the audience even though all three mothers may well be on the stage at the same time, and while they occasionally cross paths in this life, mainly they are just explaining and venting their own particular development while having their story told simultaneously with another story.
The stories and events are funny, sad, anxious, proud, uncertain and determined. Just like a mother.
There are 36 different mothers in this play (or something close to that). And they range from the ex-high school prom queen to the cigarette puffing bad girl to the mother confused by her own mother.
Director Laura Gordon has taken these four actors, put them in a brown paper bag, and shaken them out to, as might be said, let the chips fall where they may.
When you have three wonderful and experienced actors you don’t want to get in their way as they create and develop their own characters. You want to give them room to do what they do best, and as one of the best actors and directors in town, Gordon does just that.
Perhaps the best way to describe these actors is to place each in high school.
Lopez-Rio is the good student and good friend who always brings her books to school and always finishes assignments on time. She is a helper, generously sharing a spotlight, even creating a greater width of a spotlight. Her social life came in groups.
Staples is the ex-prom queen who can go from serenity to her wits end in a blink of an eye or one more frazzled strand of her blonde hair falling out of her pony tale. She is the girl boys didn’t ask out because nobody thought they had a chance with her, all except the quarterback.
Workentin (perhaps the best comedic actor in the city) is mostly the girl who huddled across the street from school, smoked cigarettes and swore while making fun of the students who weren’t as hip or tough as she and her friends and that was all the other students.
These three actors have such skill that it is both disciplined and unbridled. It’s rare to see actors who can hold it in and let it go with such an amazing set of tools.
And like mothers in real life, they have tools to spare and are always anxious to preserve all that is dear to any mother.
Mention must be made of Jason Fassl, the semi-genius who designed the set with five different panels that constantly changed photos to reflect the atmosphere of what was happening on stage. From a line of brownstones to a tree painted in a child’s bedroom to an urban skyline and a school and a winter playground,he has designed a set and lighting that must be seen.
Thank God for this play.
"Motherhood Out Loud" runs through May 7 and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.
Production Credits: Director, Laura Gordon; Scenic, Lighting and Set Projection Design, Jason Fassl; Costume Design, Rachel Laritz; Properties Design, Heidi Salter, Shannon Sloan-Spice; Sound Design, David Cecsarini; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly, Kathi Karol Koenig.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.