Mother Hubbard's Cupboard
nytheatre.com review by Jose Zayas
August 13, 2007
A lot of weird stuff happens in Mark Jay Mirsky's Mother Hubbard's Cupboard. A delightful blend of Ionesco, early Albee, and dirty nursery rhymes, Mirsky's play is a hilarious, twisted, and cleverly constructed tale of familial turmoil. This is family dysfunction drama, fringe style.
Mother Hubbard is woken up from a deep slumber by the unexpected visit of the Woman In White. Sexily clad in a nurse's uniform—half dominatrix, half sweet natured businesswoman—this guest is a mystery and it is a mystery that Mother Hubbard must unravel. Is she a tax collector, is she here for the children, is she the angel of death? Double-speak, weird noises in the walls, sudden explosions of Beethoven's Fifth, and cursing are all part of a normal day in the Hubbard household. To give any of the secrets away in this brief but highly satisfactory play would be a sin. All you need to know is that the children want out, the father is lost, and Mother Hubbard is at the end of her rope. Stir with manic glee and enjoy.
Director Marc Palmieri keeps all of the disparate elements and tonal shifts clear and grounded. There are no false moves. The comedy is sharp and focused and ranges from the linguistically intricate to the physically deranged. He even manages to invoke great dread amidst the laughter. The impending sense of doom is magical and very well handled and contains one of the most effective uses of a blackout since The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
The company is exceptional and all of the performers handle the hairpin turns in the script with great skill. As the children, Israel Mirsky and Lynn Mancinelli create indelible portraits of stunted growth and wanton desires. They are dangerous, petulant, sweet, and generous all in one breath. Jill Helene brings great warmth and exuberance to the Woman In White and manages to make corporate jargon very funny and deeply sexy. Jeremy Johnson is charming as the misunderstood and mistreated patriarch and does wonders with very little.
But the evening belongs to Jennifer Bayly's formidable Mother Hubbard. She is dry, brittle, a perfect mother and a perfect monster. Bayly embraces this deeply contradictory and exhausted woman completely and it is a treat to hear her handle Mirsky's language. A woman at odds with her environment Mother Hubbard tells her guest "I try to be gracious." To which her guest innocently asks "Is it hard?" Hubbard's reply: "Very Hard." Bayly practically brings the house down with this line. It is a testament to her skill and to the wit of her performance that we believe her, understand her deep sadness, and yet find ourselves laughing anyway.