nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 10, 2009
Perhaps the biggest mistake made during the production of Lisa Ebersole's Mother at the Wild Project is having members of the audience seated on stage. Set in the Tiffany box-colored dining room of the upscale "Inn at Brier Valley" (designed by Sandra Goldmark) on December 29, 2009, Mother gives audience members who are willing to pay $5 more for their tickets the ability to sit within earshot of the (surprise, surprise) dysfunctional Leroy family and a complimentary glass of Prosecco.
So it was interesting to watch the demographics of the four non-actor couples seated on stage—two genuine (boyfriend and girlfriend; two older ladies), two plants (seen pre-show chatting with their comrades on the production team). One of the plants kept whispering to her friend that she had to use the bathroom and bolted out almost immediately after the actors left the stage. One of the older ladies did what many do when they go to the theater. She turned to her friend and asked "what did they say!?"
That this was the most entertaining part of Mother says very little about the forgettable, blink-or-you'll-miss-it evening, featuring the great Holland Taylor and Buck Henry. Ebersole, who co-stars as their daughter, has crafted a play with so many plot fragments that to come up with any succinct description is near impossible. It is dinner time and they're dysfunctional. They all seem to disappear for a while in potential kidnappings. Something happened to the daughter when she was two years old? The son, played by Haskell King, has been (I imagine?) dumped by his married lover. The black waiter (Keith Randolph Smith) might have a crush on Mother. Dad lost some money in a bad investment and Mother potentially has brain cancer, but we don't learn that, the best possible plot point in the piece, until five minutes before it's over.
Ebersole & King provide little support for the estimable Taylor & Henry, who themselves can barely make sense of the nothingness of the script. Yet, the difference between Ebersole & King and Taylor & Henry is that the latter, through years and years of experience, know how to make the most of even a black hole. Smith, who has the most developed part, actually has a character to work with. And he's just as good as the legends above the title.
My companion (not really an actress, but she has acted before and knows the basics of stage blocking) was confused as to why director Andrew Grosso blocked Taylor and King, in certain scenes, to sit with their backs to the audience when all four "family members" are seated at the table.
I was confused as to why the play was produced at all.