Something remarkable happened at the Macungie Institute this past May. In the auditorium of this inconspicuous converted schoolhouse turned community arts center, a delicate balancing act was playing out with astonishing results. Global ImpACTORS Group’s production of the off-Broadway hit Motherhood Out Loud straddles the line between raucous irreverence and intense pathos with a deft hand that serves as a remarkable showcase for the depth and breadth of talent in the Lehigh Valley.
Motherhood Out Loud is a series of vignettes and monologues written by a group of 14 playwrights. If that sounds like a lot of writers, the cast, under the guidance of Director Tesia Nicoli, keeps the pace brisk and light. Minimal but well-crafted sets allow for smooth transitions from one segment to the next.
The show opens by letting us know where it stands on addressing the joys and frustrations of parenthood. This is not a show that’s going to rely on mawkish sentiment. This is not going to be adapted for Lifetime TV. The show opens as each chapter will; with a rapid fire “fugue” where snippets of dialogue come together to paint a verbal picture of the chapter’s theme. In the opening we have three mothers (played by Kathy Pacheco, Becca Carlyon Wahoff, and Rachel Williams) recounting comical memories of the childbirth experience.
In a way, the second vignette encapsulates the show as a whole. In the segment entitled “Squeeze, Hold, Release”, Becca Carlyon Wahoff plays a new mother saying good bye to her parents (Patti Squire and Goran Zdravkovic) after their post-partum visit. Asked if she has any final advice for her daughter, Squire proceeds to explain the intimate importance of kegel exercises. The ensuing scene is hilariously awkward, but segues into a wistful meditation on how “squeezing, holding, and releasing” can serve as a metaphor for motherhood itself. It is quite a trick to take segment of ribald, somewhat uncomfortable comedy and turn it into a mediation on parenting that is sweet without being saccharine. Difficult though it is, this a trick that we see expertly performed many times throughout the evening.
The entire cast of this production is excellent in both monologues and ensemble sketches. Kathy Pacheco delivers some of the biggest laughs of the night in the sleep deprived monologue “Next to the Crib.” Gene Connelly, playing a gay father of a surrogate child in “If We’re Using a Surrogate, How Come I’m the One with Morning Sickness,” strikes a perfect balance between the humor and raw emotion of a complex experience. “Bridal Shop” finds Patty Squire and Judith Evans demonstrating amazing chemistry and comic rapport in as they commiserate on the trauma of becoming a mother-in-law.
Krystel Seier brings the audience with her on a ride through the giddy peaks and heartbreaking valleys of raising an autistic child in the segment “Michael’s Date,” a sequence whose emotional climax strikes a heart-rending chord with the audience. Renee Wadsworth breathes intense emotional life into “My Almost Family,” a look at the struggles of a potential stepmom trying to find her place in an already existing family. Genia Miller, who elsewhere in the show demonstrates a light a deft comic touch, absolutely devastates with the monologue “Stars and Stripes.” Told from the perspective a mother whose son is deployed in Afghanistan, the piece builds to a sustained emotional peak that reminds us that the quiet dignity and strength with which we credit our military families need not, and perhaps should not, always be quiet.
“Stars and Stripes” is an impact moment in a show full of them. Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, I would hate to have to follow that.” Here, the Director makes the wise choice of giving the audience a bit of a breather, letting the crowd sit in silence for a few moments before proceeding to the fifth and final chapter.
Even in the rare situation when the writing threatens to let the show down, the cast manages to transcend the material, keeping the audience rapt where lesser actors might stumble. The clearest example of this would be the great work done by Eric D. Hersh and Marcy Repp. Their segment entitled “Elizabeth” seems out of place amongst the more tightly written portions of the show, an overly long series of micro scenes tracing a son’s realization that his mother is beginning to show signs of dementia. From a writing stand point, the piece could be a momentum killer but Hersh and Repp’s commitment to the characters and pitch perfect chemistry carry the day.
While the show is called Motherhood Out Loud, it is a show for parents of all genders, persuasions, and ages. It a testament to the ensemble’s considerable skill that the show’s diversity never becomes too heavy handed. With sketches and monologues dedicated to gay surrogacy, adopted families, the struggles of raising an autistic child, and menstruation in a Muslim family; it would be easy for a lesser production to fall into self-congratulatory proselytizing. Global ImpACTORS Group does no such thing; opting, instead to present a joyous, emotional, and very funny group portrait of the many faces of parenthood.
Find more information online about upcoming performances at http://www.gigtheater.com or by calling 484-891-1314.