Friday, April 2, 2010

It's Your Mother At The Boulevard

Mark Bucher Directs the Midwest Premiere of A New Comedy

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Christine Horgen (L) and Nicole Gorski (R)

The Boulevard Theatre closes its season with the Midwest Premiere of Patricia Durnate and Betsy Tuxill’s It’s Your Mother.  (It’s a great title.) The show is a series of vignettes about mother/daughter relationships. It’s fun when it’s not being repetitious.

Of Shorts And Springtime
I love theatrical shorts in the springtime. There’s something pleasant about shedding the longer subject work in warmer months and jumping into something comfortably shorter. The great thing about a series of shorts is that you never have to wait around through the tedious bits for too long. A series of shorts cradles the modern attention span quite nicely. Playwrights Durante and Tuxill have a nice sense of set-up, delivery and punch line in a parade of largely comic shorts with a few bits of drama thrown-in.

The only problem here is that the balance is a bit off. The shorts tend to weight pretty heavily on the side of stories about judgmental, overbearing mothers. This is fun and an easy source of pleasantly breezy comedy, but it gets a bit tiresome at times. Also—the shorts seem pretty heavily weighted on mother-daughter conversations. As fun as they can be, it’s greatly appreciated when It’s Your Mother throws-in an occasional sister/sister or husband/wife conversation to break-up the monotony.

(The sister/sister piece with Rachel Lewandowski and Jenny Kostreva would’ve been really interesting to expand on. The actresses hold the momentum of the piece together so well that it’s a bit disappointing that it has to end as soon as it does. The husband/wife short features a conversation between Michael Tyburski and a classily witty Shannon Nettesheim as they discuss the live-in mother who he had found sitting in the middle of the street eating a pretzel.)

The voicemails from Mom that punctuate the show are cute, but outside of any larger narrative, they feel a bit too cliché to be of any real interest. The micro monologues do allow Lisa Golda and a couple of other actresses an opportunity to add a bit of fun between the scenes pretty consistently, but with so many of them to shuffle through between her and a few other actresses, the bit gets a little tired.

As a whole, the show runs along pretty briskly. At just under ninety minutes with no intermission, It’s Your Mother could be an exceedingly fun evening’s comedy with a bit of contrasting drama under the right circumstances. The right cicumstances didn't quite coem about here . . . the script was weak in places where the cast was strong and the script was strong in places the cast qasn't quite up to speed with. Rather than maintain a consistent level of entertainemnt, the whole thing felt a bit unbalanced.

Some genuinely well-balanced bits get a bit lost in the mix. Melissa Keith and Amanda Schleuter have a really interesting moment as mother and daughter watching a soap opera. The conversation between mother and daughter about the nature of homosexuality could’ve been remarkably bad, but the script actually made generational clichés interesting. Keith is engaging as a heterosexual daughter trying to explain to her mother that not everyone conforms to traditional gender stereotypes with the enough intellectual texture to keep the dialogue with Schleuter from becoming tedious. Much like the conversation between Lewandowski and Kostreva, there’s more than enough here that would’ve been interesting built into a longer piece. Both shorts feel a bit lost here—they seem to be looking for more time and much more room to breathe. 

Pleasant Familiarity In Rapid Bursts
Having worked in the tiny space of the Boulevard Theatre for years, Mark Bucher knows the best use of what little space he has onstage. A cast of 15 shifts in and around the stage quite efficiently. After the usual curtain speech by Mark Bucher, the entire cast appears onstage for a brief, somewhat charming Bucherian intro that leads-in to the barrage of shorts. It may have been weak in places, but the really impressive thing about this production is an opportunity to see some remarkably talented actresses doing tantalizingly short bits onstage.

In addition to Lisa Golda’s appearances in the voicemail bits, she also appears alongside the endearing Marion Araujo in Home For Thanksgiving. Araujo plays a college student who has returned home from college for Thanksgiving with a pierced nose and a newly-acquired vegetarian diet. The rapport between Golda and Araujo is fun in one of the better shorts in the series. The charm of the short lies just as much in the emotional connection between the two actresses as it does any of the dialogue’s comic lines.

Generally, the dramatic moments don’t always come together all that well here. It can be profoundly difficult for any actor to bring together all the different dramatic ends of a pair of characters in five minutes or less while simultaneously introducing, tackling and resolving some sort of conflict. The best drama in the series had to be Brooke Wegner in The Couch. The therapist/patient bit has appeared on local sages a few times this season, but Wegner does a really brilliant job of modulating the complexity of emotion as a character navigates her feelings for a mother she resents in a surprisingly memorable short near the end of the program.

The memorable bits didn’t always spring-up in the most novel of moments. What could’ve read as a very stereotypical conversation between a bride-to-be and her overbearing mother actually ended up being a lot of fun here. A very sweet Christine Horgen was a brilliant choice for the mother here . . . Horgen has a very pleasant stage presence, which contrasts quite nicely against the dominating personality that comes out in the dialogue. As the soon-to-be-wed daughter, Nicole Gorski beautifully holds the audience’s sympathies as she desperately tries to work with her mother’s demands.

By far the single best piece in the program has to be The Drive. Here two sisters drive to their parents’ place for Thanksgiving. It’s a really natural, really clever moment between the two siblings as they discuss bits of conversation that may or may not be off limits for the weekend. The short brilliantly captures that tension so common to so many adult children returning to their parents’ place for a major holiday. Rachel Lewandowski has a powerfully magnetic charm. . . drifting through her sister’s CD collection trying to find something relaxing, only to find that it’s all show tunes. Milwaukee Rep Educational Director Jenny Kostreva plays the sister behind the wheel in the short. Kostreva isn’t as familiar as many of the rest of the actresse here, but she makes a strong impression.

Boulevard Theatre’s It’s Your Mother runs through May 9th. Call the Boulevard at (414) 744. 5757 for more information. 

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