BWW Reviews: Sterling Elder Female Cast Graces I REMEMBER MAMA
He may have passed away over 50 years ago, but you might say John Van Druten is the hottest playwright in New York right now.
Joining the Mint Theater Company's sparking production of London Wall and the now-previewing return engagement of Cabaret (based on his I Am A Camera) is Transport Group's beautifully touching and non-traditionally cast mounting of his most famous and beloved play, I Remember Mama.
Based on Kathryn Forbes' Mama's Bank Account, I Remember Mama is a warm memory piece set around the everyday lives of an immigrant Norwegian family living in San Francisco during the early 20th Century. Teenage Katrin, an aspiring writer, recalls the events that would go into her first publish book after she learns the important lesson of writing what you know.
Though the family often struggles financially, Mama's wisdom, resourcefulness and wholesome optimism keeps her and Papa's four children from fearing poverty.
When their son Nels wishes to attend high school and there is no money to cover the expenses, Mama encourages everyone to make small sacrifices in order to help. When their lodger suddenly moves out and his check for back rent turns out to be no good, Mama tells the children that the library of classic books he left behind is of greater value than his money. And when Katrin decides to give up her dream of being a writer after receiving her tenth rejection letter, Mama uses the power of old world family recipes to get help from a celebrated author.
Director Jack Cummings III's unconventional production has the audience lining the four walls of The Gym at Judson. The playing area is covered by set designer Dane Laffrey with ten dining room table and chair sets, each displaying a collection of memory-triggering domestic objects. One is covered with decorative boxes, another with faded photographs. There are collections of stemware and silverware. One table is loaded up with typewriters. Uniform rows of hanging lamps shine from above.
Adding another twist to the production is that Cummings casts 10 women, the youngest of whom is in her 60s, in the play's 25 roles. With minimal makeup and contemporary costumes by Kathryn Rohe that offer suggestions of their long-ago characters, the women adeptly portray ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls of varying ages.
Leading the ensemble are Barbara Andres as a lovingly authoritative Mama - firm but soft-spoken - and Barbara Barrie, precocious and ambitious as the young scribe. The rest of the company members play multiple roles, with especially memorable turns by Dale Soules as the dutiful Papa, Phyllis Somerville as the spunky young Dagmar and Lynn Cohen as the distinguished lodger, Mr. Hyde.
If there's an interpretive reason for the all female, all senior citizen cast, it's not as apparent as the welcome opportunity to see so many women of their well-seasoned skills on stage. There is no abundance of roles for older women in contemporary productions, so watching this sterling ensemble practice their craft is a particular pleasure.