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Review - Motherhood Out Loud

When considering the genre of "girls night out" offerings currently playing Off-Broadway, the selection ranges from initially unintentional (Naked Boys Singing) to "best when inebriated" (Miss Abigail's Guide...) to "men really don't get this" (Love, Loss and What I Wore). But Motherhood Out Loud, though it will absolutely attract a plethora of mother/daughter theatre dates (particularly when the daughter is also a mother), is the kind of sweet, warm - just edgy enough - little ninety-minute theatre collage that can draw a delighted smile from anyone who has been happily on either end of maternal parenthood. It will also be extremely popular among actresses searching for good monologue material.

Conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and directed with hip sentimentality by Lisa Peterson, the show is a collection of vignettes and solo pieces contributed by over a dozen authors - Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco, Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, LuAnne Rice, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West - performed by an engaging ensemble of four. Each of its five chapters - from birth to infancy all the way to child adulthood - is preceded by one of Lowe's fugues; an introductory verbal barrage.

The first full monologue, West's "Squeeze, Hold, Release," gets its title from a mother's advice to her daughter, a first-time mom, regarding an exercise that will help keep her husband satisfied with their postnatal sex. Saidah Arrika Ekulona plays comical discomfort as the new mother trying to patiently accept the advice, concluding that the words "squeeze, hold, release" also sum up her role in the years to come. In Goldberg's "Stars and Stripes," Ekulona battles her emotions as she tries being supportive of her son's decision to join the army and fight in Afghanistan.

In Theresa Rebeck's "Baby Bird," Mary Bacon vents frustrations regarding the questions and conclusions she must react to every day concerning her adopted Chinese daughter. In a lighter scene, Lisa Loomer's "New in the Motherhood," she frets over the prospect of spending afternoons for the next five to ten years among the denizens of the public park.

The evening's higher moments belong to the immensely enjoyable Randy Graff, first as a sleep deprived parent unwilling to let her newborn out of her sight in Brooke Berman's "Next to the Crib," then, in the show's most touching moment, Lowe has her playing a mom recalling her young son's desire to dress as Queen Esther for Purim. The flat-out funniest laughs come when Graff portrays an elderly woman who rather bluntly dismisses some of the more sugary myths of motherhood to her great-granddaughter.

The inclusion of a man in the ensemble comes off as a bit awkward in an evening otherwise told through the point of view of mothers (Is there a time when a male is a mother instead of a father?), but nevertheless, James Lecesne is funny and touching in his two scenes. Marco Pennette has him as a gay man feeling pregnancy symptoms as he and his partner hire a surrogate and in David Cale's moving playlet, he's a divorced man coming to stay temporarily with his mother and discovering that now it's she who needs parenting.

Motherhood Out Loud may not be a boisterous affair, as its title suggests, but it's a lively piece of sentimental humor and pathos that may spark some memories and warm a few hearts.

Photos by James Leynse: Top: Mary Bacon, Randy Graff and Saidah Arrika Ekulona; Bottom: James Lecesne.

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From This Author Ben Peltz