Monday, August 3, 2009

Mother (The Wild Project)

The Wild Project
July 29, 2009
Lisa Ebersole (writer)
Andrew Grosso (director)

What I can't figure is, why comedians Buck Henry & Holland Taylor agreed to be in Lisa Ebersole's Mother. When an actor picks a bum script, the problem, ironically, is that tempting lead role: what makes the show a great vehicle also leaves the show's dramaturgy behind as roadkill. But Mother's got nothing like that to offer its cast. The script isn't a complete washout: the dialogue sounds natural and the family dynamics are richly layered. But what there is of a plot is a dysfunctional WASP get-together.

The direction's invisible; the set's serviceable. Ebersole plays the daughter and Haskall King plays the son: both are wooden. But Henry and Holland flash their wit, helping to suggest there's more driving their characters' spaciness and petulance than just senior moments. Of course, the script deals out a few last-minute revelations to explain their behavior. But they've been shoehorned in for drama's sake, far too late to energize the drifting, aimless play.

Mother seems more like an playwrighting exercise (“write a scene in which every character has a subtext”) than a drama. Ebersole's naturalistic dialogue apes Harold Pinter, but without the fury that makes Pinter so vital. And she teases us with a subplot involving a feud with a rival family—is she fusing Mexican-style kidnappings with 21st-century corporate financiers? No, she's just dangling another plot thread in front of us. Mother isn't about anything; after 75 minutes of gathering yarn, it leaves the audience wondering why good actors pick dull scripts.

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