We’ve all heard the numerous trite stories about being a mother: the sleepless nights, the out-of-wack hormones, the constant scheduling—going from school, to work, to piano rehearsals, to soccer games, to dinner-on-the-table, to bed, to repeat the next day. It’s exhausting; we know. Yet, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when discussing the details of child-rearing. A new set of issues arise when it comes to sending responsible, compassionate, independent, smart, and well-rounded citizens out into the world.
“Motherhood Out Loud,” currently presented by Big Dawg Productions, takes all of those notions and wraps them into a two-hour production featuring 20 vignettes and 16 actors and actresses, at the hands of four directors—er, directresses. The best compliment handed to this triumph certainly goes to the ladies behind the scenes. Kudos to Rhoda Gary, Melissa Stanley, Gina Gambony, and Heather Dodd for making the 20 vignettes flow seamlessly and without notice that eight hands directed this show. That alone is a feat.
However, what really impresses in “Motherhood” is the quality of writing matched by the perfect cast members to enact each skit. Sure, it opens with surface-level interest, a la losing sleep on the nursery floor or weeping while seeing off a child on his first day of school. But each vignette ages the parenting process, from toddler and middle-school years, into college and early adulthood, even into reverse caretaking, wherein child becomes the guardian of the parent. While the earlier “fluff” may seem expected (i.e. cursing like a sailor during childbirth or breaking up fights on the playground), it serves a greater purpose at the end. All of the earlier obstacles of parenthood often pale in comparison to the serious issues one faces once a child begins to mold his own personality.
Two skits in particular stand as a great example. Dori Schoonmaker in “Queen Esther” could not have carried any more finesse as a divorced mother skeptical over her son’s wont to be Sleeping Beauty instead of Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. Though the family tries to guide him toward sports, the outcome leads to school fights and even the young child expressing, “Mommy, I don’t feel like me.” So when she agrees to let the child dress as the heroine Queen Esther for the Purim reading at temple, knowing the backlash she’ll get from others, Schoonmaker makes her fear palpable. Her eyes run deep with a nervous reserve that transforms into pure acceptance, love and fortitude.
She also shines in “Nooha’s List,” a skit where a Muslim mother must go through the explanation of the menstrual cycle with her 15-year-old daughter during Ramadan. Sure, it’s a conversation everyone’s heard, but it comes with insights from another culture that give it an underlying social commentary not to be avoided. In fact, most of the writing in this show feels fashioned in that sense.
“Stars & Stripes” puts the spotlight on Terri Batson who brings deft panic to the forefront of parenting. She watches her son enroll in the military and get deployed to Afghanistan. The frenzy of her mind replays three men approaching her doorstop to utter words she cannot bear: “Your son’s dead.” Batson delivers her reaction, and makes it clear it’s how she must constantly think in order to prepare herself for the worse. It may be a brimming moment in showcasing how a woman’s brain functions when it comes to the protection of her child: “I want to go into the darkness first,” Batson states.
While the show provides a fair share of heavy commentary, it also comes with a large heaping of hilarity—sometimes both bombarding the stage. Amanda Young is the best at juggling the two. Her caustic deliverance of “New in the Motherhood” left me rallying for her to rewrite playground etiquette rules. She delivers the same sarcastic punch in “Baby Bird,” a skit dealing with the audacious public who questions her constantly about adopting a baby girl from China while having a biological son. And she’s a smash in “Michael’s Date.” Her zeal extracts pushiness, and one can see how her charm and care would embarrass her autistic son during his first date to the movies. She exudes desperation in wanting him to interact with a sense of normalcy. More so, Young’s cadence of dialogue almost always matches the various personalities she plays and keeps them distinctly separate.
Men also take the stage in “Motherhood Out Loud.” Kenneth Rosander pulls off a heartwrenching snippet of life on the brink of caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s. Steve Vernon, Big Dawg’s artistic director, thrusts attention on the idea of a child having two daddies instead of a mommy. While some of the dialogue written is rather stereotypical (“we’ve been together eight years, which is like 56 in hetero years”), it garners laughs nonetheless. Vernon’s use of props showcasing family pictures drives home the point that families come in all varieties, and no one way is right. He also summons tears and lip-quivers on command toward the end of his “brave new world” monologue; it’s applaudable and certainly affecting.
Audience tears may flow freely during this show. For me, it came in Meghan Parker’s delivery of “My Almost Family” about being a stepmom. Having to give up that which you love most is torture. Her numbness and solitude simply bear hugs the audience.
Guffaws of laughter will follow tears, nonetheless, especially from the salty language rampant throughout the show. Chris Brown’s great-grandmother scene manages a few earmuff moments while pulling on the heartstrings favorably thereafter. And her sass in “Thanksgiving Fugue” is all-enveloping against her fellow thespians.
The set design remains minimalistic—like a blank slate allowing the actors and actresses to take center stage, which they all do. As well, their costuming perfectly works; each wears all black and simply changes up characters by including a shaw here and a purse there.
“Motherhood Out Loud” is about the stories, the connections, and the familial thread of life that weaves its way into our own hearts and souls. Everyone with a mother, guardian, who has become a mother, or even someone who isn’t a mother will find a lot to love about this show. I wasn’t expecting to walk away thinking this, but I do: It’s the best production I’ve seen from Big Dawg to date.
Motherhood Out Loud
Thurs.-Sun., April 24th-27th, April 24th-27th; May 8th-11th, 8 p.m. and Sun. matinees, 3 p.m. • $15-$20
Cape Fear Playhouse
613 Castle St. • (910) 367-5237