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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cathartic Soccer Match

Theater Review

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Milwaukee Shakespeare's closure has left a chasm in the city's Shakespeare offerings-one that Boulevard Theatre's intended production of As You Like It could have helped bridge. It goes without saying that Artistic Director Mark Bucher's decision to switch from As You Like It to a play about housewives quibbling on the sidelines of a soccer field may not have pleased everyone. To be sure, Kathleen Clark's Secrets of a Soccer Mom (through March 29) doesn't aspire to high art. Nevertheless it provides some insights into the solitary burdens of motherhood.

The play revolves around three women taking part in a mother-son soccer match. They divide their time between watching their children like hawks and discussing their lives, loves and the incendiary impertinence of other people's brats. Their running commentary is humorous and sometimes moving. It expresses the nagging uncertainties of motherhood, the sense of one's needs and wants being shunted aside by an endless litany of parental duties that leaves you feeling estranged from your pre-parenthood self.

"It scares me to think I might not find my way back," says Alison, who of the three mothers seems most intent on breaking out of the soccer-mom mold.

Played by Marion Araujo with a high-strung intensity bordering on petulance, Alison is uncomfortably earnest. She's a perfect vehicle for exploring the boundary between superficial friendliness and untoward intimacy with one's peers that most parents are careful not to cross. Clark would have done well to explore these awkward boundaries more rigorously.

Using actresses with whom audiences aren't overly familiar works to the play's advantage. Brooke Wegner does credit to the role of the nurturing mother who feels overwhelmed by her self-imposed duties. Kathleen Williams ably portrays a woman succumbing to mid-life ennui. Their engaging performances and guest director Ruth Boulet's competent direction ensure that the pace doesn't slacken too much-a surprising feat given that all the action takes place offstage. However, the play would benefit from a conclusion that better resists the feel-good ending Clark has provided.

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