“In Mother Words” is a series of 20 vignettes about motherhood written by 14 authors and performed by three superb actresses and one excellent actor. The sketches are funny, poignant, spirited, instructive, often predictable, and sometimes overly gooey. But the fly in the Desitin is that you’ve seen many of them — or sketches like them — before.
There’s the screaming birth scene followed by the emotional catharsis of holding the new baby for the first time. There’s dealing with an oversolicitous mother. And the mother-in-law. There’s the first day of school, the first date, the graduation — you get the picture.
Which isn’t to say that it isn’t well done. OBIE and Lucille Lortel Award-winning actress (for her role as Mama Nadi in “Ruined”) Saidah Arrika Ekulona makes her Geffen Playhouse debut here and will continue performing through the run of the play. As will James Lecesne, whose off-Broadway one-man show “Word of Mouth,” (presented by Mike Nichols and Elaine May and directed by Eve Ensler) won both the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. Further, his film “Trevor” won an Oscar in 1994 as Best Live Action Short.
Fleshing out Cast #1 and appearing through March 15 are “Malcolm in the Middle” star Jane Kaczmarek and Amy Pietz, best known for her role in “Caroline in the City,” and last seen at the Geffen as a member of the ensemble cast of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” On March 16 two new actresses will take over, and a third duo will wind up the run from April 13 to May 1.
“In Mother Words” was conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and is directed in a timely fashion by Lisa Peterson. Among the 14 writers whose work is performed are Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley, Pulitzer Prize nominee Lisa Loomer, Peabody Award winner Theresa Rebeck, two-time Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award finalist Michele Lowe (who contributed seven pieces to this production), and best-selling author Luanne Rice, whose 25 novels include “Blue Moon,” “Cloud Nine,” “The Edge of Winter,” and “What Matters Most.”
As an added fillip, Emily Hubley has fashioned a clever series of animated designs as a backdrop to the stories and Jill BC DuBoff has provided bouncy original music and sound.
Of all the narratives presented, I found Marco Pennette’s “If We’re Using a Surrogate” one of the most engaging. In this vignette James Lecesne portrays a gay man going through the trauma of choosing an egg donor and a surrogate baby-carrier to provide a little girl for him and his partner of eight years (“or 56 years in hetero time,” he says). Lecesne is a particularly fine actor and he makes this piece both funny and touching.
In another similarly moving scene, a mother wrestles with the desire of her young son to dress as Queen Esther for a Purim party. And another mother deals with the problem of explaining to her son what a clitoris is.
In aggregate, it’s a pleasant evening, light and enjoyable. But if you were expecting to see Amanda Wingfield, Tennessee Williams’ overpowering mother figure from “The Glass Menagerie,” this isn’t the production for you.
“In Mother Words” will continue at the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse, 10866 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through May 1. Call (310) 208-5454 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.