A Mother, A Daughter, and A Gun
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 27, 2005
I believe it was Chekhov who said something like if you show them a gun in the first act it better go off in the last. Well, in A Mother, a Daughter and a Gun, the very first thing we see is the daughter following the instructions on how to load her brand new gun. So, does it go off in the last act? Oh it goes off alright, I’d say about every ten minutes. She actually has to reload just after intermission. The gun is also frivolously pointed at just about everyone. If there were a baby in this play the gun would certainly have spent some time pointed at its cute little head. It’s all in good fun. It’s like a sitcom, but with a gun and some cussing, which is just fine, but I was wondering when things would turn serious or real in some way. But I wondered in vain because they never do.
The daughter, Jess, bought this new gun because she has discovered that her husband is cheating on her and she’s determined to shoot him. Her overbearing and self-centered mother, Beatrice, enters her apartment using her “emergency” key and almost gets shot in the process. (That’s only the first shot. Get used to being startled out of your seat.) Jess is an intelligent but mousy and pessimistic young woman who has always sought her mother’s approval but has never been able to get it. She recently won a ham in a grocery store contest and since she’d never won anything in her life she tells everyone she meets that day that she’s having a party to celebrate. Beatrice is there to help with the party, but Jess has become too depressed about her husband screwing around to care about it anymore.
The majority of the play takes place during the party. Jess spends most of her time holed up in her room while her mother butterflies around from guest to guest telling them personal things about Jess such as that fact that she’s pregnant. Various party-goers parade through her room and talk to her. There’s the lesbian couple that wants to adopt the baby, there’s the guy that Jess sees at her therapist’s office because his appointment is right before hers, and then there's the man that took her virginity but can’t seem to remember her. Eventually her Dad shows up and makes a fond confession of having an affair himself. An admission for which Beatrice shoots him. (Not dead; she just grazes him arm.)
It’s very silly. The mother character is ridiculously self-absorbed. The daughter is whiny to the point of annoyance. The rest of the characters are blatant stereotypes. With the possible exception of the guy who took her virginity. Their scene actually approached something tender and real. I was fooled into thinking that the daughter would in some way make a connection with her mother, maybe even gain her approval, but they never really come close. She takes Beatrice’s emergency key away and that’s about as close as the playwright comes to a resolution.
Playwright Barra Grant has a talent for writing some great jokes but even comedy has moments where characters face a real situation with real emotions and/or genuine reactions. If every line in life were a joke then what would be funny? What would it be contrasted with? I laughed with these characters for a while but after some time I lost the urge to laugh because it just got old. I wanted something real. At one point, for example, Beatrice thinks that Jess has shot herself in the bathroom, but her reactions are nothing even close to how a real person would react. I guess that's why they call this one dark comedy, but at the same time it’s all oh so light. So I figure Grant is inventing a genre that she might call gray comedy. It’s interesting and much of the audience was laughing throughout so it works for some.
Veanne Cox is equally endearing and annoying as Jess. And those are hard things to balance. She manages to pull some honesty out of a character that admits to very little. George S. Irving is absolutely hilarious in his role as the father. His monologue about his affair is brilliant. Olympia Dukakis is at her quirky, comic best in this role. There were some moments when I felt she was pushing it just little bit, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to the writing or to the directing.
Director Jonathan Lynn lends the play a quick pace and stages some funny physical bits. There are a few places where he goes a bit over-the-top, such as the Puerto Rican party-goer who is almost constantly salsa dancing. Jesse Poleshuck’s rotating set design is most impressive.
I had some fun at A Mother, a Daughter and a Gun but it didn’t last the entire show. I could not help but think that if I wanted to watch a sitcom I could have just stayed at home.