My Three Moms
nytheatre.com review by Brad Lee Thomason
August 14, 2010
Though the title sounds like it could be a late 1980s sitcom, make no mistake: Virginia Bryan's performance of My Three Moms is hardly light fare, and even if this is a relatively short play (just under an hour in running time) there is enough heartache here for a play three times its length. My Three Moms is an autobiographical piece in which Bryan returns to her home state of Georgia to attend three different funerals over a period of several years.
I appreciated the structure of Bryan's work; each of the three scenes begins with a phone call from her sister Clarisse relating the bad news that one of the three women who helped raise her has passed or been pronounced terminal, and she is now to return home to Georgia to attend the funeral. In each of the funeral scenes that follow, Bryan plays multiple characters—all family members or close friends, and all highly opinionated Southern women. What is impressive about Bryan's characterization is the variation she finds; even though every single one of her characters is a Georgian woman with a thick Southern accent, all of them are extremely well defined and very different from each other. She manages to steer clear of stereotypes and all the women seem very real which shows a lot hard work and talent on Bryan's part.
However, the more I heard from these women Bryan was portraying, the less I tended to like them. At first it was mildly amusing; the little jokes of "still haven't found a husband yet, sugar?" and jibes about her choice of city (New York) and profession (acting), but by the second funeral I found myself feeling a little sorry for Virginia. Although the funeral attendees are described in the press materials as "crazy," that would actually be better than the truth. These women are just plain mean-spirited; barely concealing their bitterness behind a thin veil of social grace. These women, except for the two who seem to be bordering on senility, are highly judgmental, meddling, self-righteous gossips, and through their one-sided dialogue with Virginia they slowly reveal their bigotry, their superstition, their small-mindedness, their narcissism... which not only makes me angry for Bryan, but also makes the final moment of each scene painful to watch as Virginia sits in bereaved silence before the lights slowly fade to black. Then moments later comes the dreaded ringing of the phone... and we know right away it won't be good news.
Honestly, I left the theatre with mixed feelings about this play. Don't get me wrong, it is well written and well performed, and the simplicity of the production allows Bryan to really tell the story with her words and characters. I suppose the best thing I can compare the feeling to is leaving a theatre after seeing something like Schindler's List. I may have appreciated the quality of the storytelling, but I didn't necessarily enjoy the experience of watching it. This is not the most uplifting of subjects, and even in the end I'm not quite sure what we've learned, or what we're hoping for. There isn't much in the way of reconciliation at the play's conclusion; save for one aunt whom Virginia does become a little closer to, and the simple acceptance by Bryan that in a way she's now more alone than ever.