MotherSON – Clutching the Pearls
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
Somewhat predictable, yes, but MotherSON, currently at Baltimore Theatre Project, is nevertheless a pretty lovely production (and with accessible conversational dialogue to boot) to behold. The show is of the solo variety written and performed by New York’s Jeffrey Solomon. This is Jeffrey’s first time on stage here in Baltimore, but this play has toured vastly throughout the US and abroad. SO P.S. – You should go see his work and support bringing amazing artists to the area. You won’t regret it.
When I think about how people come out, young gay men specifically, I see, exactly, the story told on stage by Solomon and directed by David L. Carson. You really can’t get any more sweet-toothed, sitcom-genre funny. Solomon plays Brad, the son in MotherSON, as a semi-autobiographical, vignette-style solo performance. He’s also MOTHER Mindy, in a RULL stereotypical “Jewish Mother” sense of the word. Story in brief: Little Brad grows up, comes out to mom, mom does a huuuuuuge double take and starts with guilt trips galore, eventually coming around enough to reluctantly join a PFLAG chapter. We meet the boyfriend, and the rest is in the bag Hallmark-style. This multiple personality system works really well to tell this heartfelt story about a mother and her methods of dealing with, understanding, and eventually accepting her son’s homosexuality. It feels a bit RENT at times but it works! She’s shocked, he pushes her for acceptance and eventually she’s marching down 5th avenue in the city’s gay pride parade.
MotherSON is cute and very Will & Grace in that this-is-how-we-all-think-it-goes-hope-it-goes kinda way. Unfortunately, this is not how it really goes, and I found Solomon’s story, while very enjoyable, a bit hard to believe as autobiographical. While it is touching (and it would be great if things really did happen this easily), I can’t seem to stop thinking that this is missing the real drama that families go through in this situation. I want tears, I want screaming, I want the real shit that happens when the boy that grows up to love a man watches as his boyfriend battles terminal illness. Somehow Solomon’s version did not quite take me as deep emotionally as I really wanted it to. The plot elements are there, it’s just that the depth was missing. Somehow it was if I was watching an episode of the latest Fox sitcom on TV, where just as things get darkly serious, mom makes a joke about “PFAG… I mean PFLAG”. And there, in that very instant, the story is made accessible, is made safe, and we’re taken out of true emotions that may be real and unsettling.
But the show is funny, most successfully so in Solomon’s use of the telephone and other small props. For example: As Brad, he picks up the phone and calls home. Mindy answers via overhead loudspeaker, and the dialogue banters back and forth, weaving its way in and out of hilarity. After a quick blackout and a shift in setting, Solomon flips the script and we see Mindy (with no costume change! BRILLIANT!!) lying on the sofa while we experience her point of view (And what a point of view! Again, stereotypes exist for a reason and there’s no doubt that Solomon drew heavily on his own experiences to create these characters but damn. There’s so many drawn out DAAAWWWlings in this show, you can practically smell the gefilte fish.) Solomon does an excellent job of pushing just the right elements of Mindy to the surface during the transitions. We clearly see both characters with simple nuance, tone, and inflection. This back-and-forth is difficult for any actor to do for a short duration but Solomon nails it for the entire 80-minute show. One of the best moments played out on stage is the purse clutching staggering first-walk into a gay bar Mindy makes to meet Brad and his new boyfriend (Ohhh!! A DOCTOR!) for drinks. It’s classic, hits the right notes, and is exactly how that experience might play out in real life.
The Bottom Line: MotherSON is simple, clean, easy to watch, and entertaining. Solomon’s touching dedication to the root of his story, to moral and message, is noble and heartfelt. I loved watching him play Mindy/Brad and I adored the ingenious ways he uses props, sound effects, and simple settings to suggest time, place, and additional supportive characters. The 80-minutes flies by and keeps you engaged. Go see this show and experience what it means to have an oppressive Jewish mother in the most hysterical of ways; but don’t expect the show to get to the core emotions of the majority of real MotherSON relationships.
Running at Baltimore Theatre Project until August 17th.
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