By Annette Hinkle
“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” — Mark Twain
Therein lies the dichotomy of what it means to be someone’s mother. Exasperation and volatility balanced by moments of pure terror, sheer joy, heartbreak and immense pride.
So is it any reason that motherhood evokes the range of emotions that it does throughout our lives? And is it any reason that motherhood provides very fertile ground (pun intended) for theatrical experiences?
“Motherhood Out Loud” is one of those and it’s the current production being offered by Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center. Rather than offering a cohesive beginning to end narrative with the expected dramatic arc, “Motherhood Out Loud,” which is directed by Michael Disher, unfolds as a series of vignettes — monologues, primarily — which were written by more than a dozen writers and are presented here by an ensemble cast of Center Stage regulars who take on a variety of characters in different stages of parenthood.
The two act play, conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein, consists of short pieces offered over the course of five “chapters.” Each chapter opens with a “fugue” — three characters delivering observational snippets based on what’s to come — which set the stage for the grouping that follows.
Like Eve Enstler’s “Vagina Monologues or Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” (which Center Stage presented in January), these monologue-based plays seem to be much in vogue. They also seem to be largely about women — and when it comes to women, there’s nothing like the trials and tribulations of bringing another human into the world (and the fear that forever follows about his or her well-being) to elicit strong emotions.
These pieces highlight the way in which parenthood changes not only sleep schedules and priorities, but that core sense of self. What does it mean to abandon one’s own identity and goals in favor of conversations about diaper rash and sippy cups?
The play begins where motherhood always does — in labor — and chapter one offers vignettes of sleepless nights and endless doubts that plague every new mother — juxtaposed with the well meaning but unsolicited advice from the previous generation of mothers (and mother-in law).
Included in this collection is the poignant “Squeeze, Hold, Release” offered by Kasia Klimiuk. While she recalls those three words given to her by her mother as a way to get those “marriage muscles” back in shape (look up Kegal exercises if you’re not sure what this involves), in fact, the phrase becomes a deeper metaphor for the experience of motherhood as we squeeze our babies tight, hold them close for years, and are eventually forced to release them into the larger world.
Also eye-opening, and dead on, is “New in the Motherhood” offered by the very talented Valerie J. DiLorenzo about playground politics. This piece will hit home with any witty woman now sentenced by the circumstance of birth to endless days in the park attempting to scare up play dates for the little one. This involves shamelessly sucking up to other mothers who have little or no interest in bonding with either your or your offspring. Remember this: sarcasm and humor are completely lost on overprotective parents.
It’s accurate — but if “Motherhood Out Loud” remained rooted only in baby and toddler-hood, it would soon grow weary — like parents. Luckily, the piece branches out in ways that are revealing and moving.
Chapter two delves into the stresses mothers experience alongside their children when issues of social acceptance come into play. One example is offered by Susan Wojcik who defends her seven year old son’s fervent desire to play Queen Esther in his temple’s Purim celebration despite the stares and whispers of strangers.
This chapter is really about acceptance, and two of the most effective pieces deal with unconventional families. In “Baby Bird,” Josephine Wallace engages in a theoretical give and take with Dan Becker, who plays a total stranger asking inappropriate questions about how and why she adopted a baby from China — especially since she already has a biological son. Likewise, Adam Fronc’s experiences as a gay man who has shared the birthing process with his partner through surrogacy expands conventional definitions of motherhood.
Not every monologue in this production will resonate with every viewer — but Disher and his actors keep the stories moving and those that hit home do so very effectively. What makes the play work is the way in which it moves through life’s changes and transitions — from babyhood to leaving home, when children go off to college, get married or join the military leaving their emotionally distraught parents behind.
Finally, the arc of life winds down with the inevitable denouement — the tables turn and the nurtured become the nurturers to their own aging parents suffering with memory lapses, failing bodies and end of life decisions.
When you get right down to it, motherhood has and always will be about raising our replacements — grooming them to one day care for us, and ideally, the world. It’s not exactly a high note to end a play on, but luckily, “Motherhood Out Loud” last piece is a well-considered reflection on one mother’s love and a tender look back on her child’s entry into this crazy place all those long years ago.
No matter how old he (or she) get, it’s something no mother ever forgets.
Center Stage’s production of “Motherhood Out Loud” runs through March 24 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Shows are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Michael Disher directs. The cast includes Valerie J. DiLorenzo, Barbara Jo Howard, Edna Winston, Joan Lyons, Josephine Wallace, Adam Fronc, Dan Becker, Susan Wojcik and Kasia Klimiuk. Tickets are $22 ($12 students). Call 287-4377 or visit www.southamptonculturalcenter.org to reserve.