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BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Vicki White

As the magical floating stage descends from the upper recesses of Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, anticipation grows and attention is directed to the half dozen actors seated upon the stage, their chairs as unique as the performers themselves. Gathered together by director Joy Tilley Perryman, the dozen actors who will be seen and heard in the company's performance of Listen to Your Mother, a collection of monologues on the subject of parenthood and the myriad relationships to be found among parents and children, were each cast for his or her particular strengths, whether it's their ability to tell a story or to engage an audience.

Whatever prompted Tilley Perryman to cast her actors - those hard-to-define attributes in the possession of talented actors - audiences may rest assured that for the next two hours they will be transported from the intimate confines of the historic dinner theatre in West Nashville to any one of the unique worlds created in the monologues included in the "live storytelling phenomenon" of Listen to Your Mother since its inception in 2010. It's an engaging, intriguing and somewhat beguiling theatrical adventure, one that doesn't necessarily create new dramatic paradigms, to be certain - storytelling is, after all, the very genesis of theater as we know it - but what it does create is a sense of the familiar, a share experience of what it means to be part of a family, in whatever way, shape or form that might take today.

BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Joy Tilley Perryman

Tilley Perryman, who has become a local proponent of Listen to Your Mother since first taking part in the initial Nashville performance of the piece in 2014 (and whose heartfelt "I Am Not a Mother" monologue is perhaps the highlight of this production), brings together a disparate ensemble of Nashville actors - Layne Sasser, Shelena Walden, Jenny Norris, Sawyer Wallace, Molly Breen, Kim Nygren, W. Scott Stewart, Amber Boyer, C.J. Walton, Vicki White, Mileah Milstead and Shaw Whitsell - each of whom, in less than ten minutes, is able to create a world of words certain to enlighten and entertain, packing an emotional wallop in each performance.

BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Molly Breen

Some of the stories - each written by a different human being from her or his own unique perspective to shed light on the sometimes vexing, sometimes inspiring interpersonal relationships found in families, whether that familial unit is formed by blood, by choice or by necessity - are raucously funny (Sasser's performance of "Child of a Gangster" starts the laughs as her characters reflects on an adventure shared by the members of "Minnie's Girls" - her mother, grandmother and aunts - as they become oleomargarine bootleggers for the neighbors and friends of their Wisconsin hometown at a time such a product was outlawed in "America's Dairy State"), devastatingly moving (Sawyer Wallace's reflection on parents losing their son in a car accident at far too early an age), wonderfully clever and evocative (Jenny Norris' treatise on the imagined, high-flying life of a "Lounge Chair Lady"), quietly inspiring (Shawn Whitsell's "Tenderheaded," a recollection of a single dad spending time with his young daughter while he does her hair each day) or profoundly moving (W. Scott Stewart's plaintive and heartfelt "It Just Is"), while others are just as provocative and memorable for whatever reason makes you feel that way.

As a result, Listen to Your Mother is quite unlike anything you've ever seen at The Barn: there are no slamming doors, no mistaken identities, no broad humor and no bright and sparkling musical production numbers. But what audiences are treated to is no less theatrical or as impactful as anything they've seen at Chaffin's Barn over the past half-century.

BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
CJ Walton

Part of the wonder of any Barn show, of course, is the appearance of new names and faces on the playbill and Listen to Your Mother introduces several new personalities to the theater's loyal audiences. Shelena Walden's "How to Fight" gives her a chance to show off her innate capabilities just as certainly as Amber Boyer's "How to Sweep" gives her a vehicle for her palpable talents. Molly Breen's moving recollection about a young mother's fears and tribulations will strike close to home for most parents in the audience. Likewise, Mileah Milstead's sweetly sentimental (with an edge) reading of a mother's letter to her children in "Just in Case" and CJ Walton (who has been establishing her own set of theatrical bona fides with confident strides) delivers a tribute to all mothers seeking peace of mind insofar as what happens to their children once they are out of her arms in "The Snoop Dog."

BWW Review: Chaffin's Barn's Timely and Timeless LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Sawyer Wallace

Barn veteran Vicki White's monologue, which focuses on the particular challenges of being a stepmom in this day and age, addresses issues any woman faces who is helping to raise another woman's children. White's performance is startling and self-effacing and altogether delightful. And although she was absent from the opening matinee performance of Listen to Your Mother, we feel certain Kim Nygren's "Bring Me a Chicken Casserole" is equally impressive.

Tilley Perryman's self-penned piece addresses the choice by those women who choose not to become mothers - for whatever personal reasons she might possess - and is perhaps the most authentic, most triumphantly honest of the lot due to the very fact she's speaking from her own heart about her own life. She's funny and smart, beautifully self-reflective and forthright and will leave you with a yearning to hear more.

Listen to Your Mother continues at Chaffin's Barn through Sunday, May 12 - no coincidence, we suspect, that the closing performance comes on Mother's Day - and is perfect for each and every mother and everyone who has one. Go see it.

Listen to Your Mother. Original True Stories of Motherhood. Created by Ann Imig. Directed by Joy Tilley Perryman. Presented at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Highway 100, Nashville. Through May 12. For details, call (615) 646-9977 or go to Running time: 2 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis