At the end of Word to Your Mama, the cast appeared genuinely surprised to be applauded back out for a second round of bows. They shouldn't have been so astonished. This wonderful one-act was so energetically performed, intelligently written, and keenly directed that the only real shock will be if the play doesn't go on to garner more cheers in a longer run.
Word is a play dependent on ideas rather than plot. Three women appear on stage and within minutes begin a series of capricious rants on the sensory overload of the modern world and the futility of a consumerist life. Although the audience is never told, it doesn't take long to discern the three are different voices of the same mind, in this case belonging to a young secretary. The cohesive stream of consciousness touches on everything from the complex to the banal, and in just under an hour turns most sacred cows into hamburger.
Writer and director Julia Barclay is a PBS mind living in an MTV world. She is as comfortable mentioning Willem De Kooning as she is Michael Ovitz, and had no problem juxtaposing reflections on the meaning of life with automobile commercials. Economic theory and religion are deemed as worthy of examination as Windows software and Happy Meals. Subjects are shot out to ricochet around the theater, then are stopped by non-sequiturs both blunt and hilarious; ideas as intriguing as "People are born, and cash renders them all equally for sale" are followed with "There's a lot of goodness in a bowl of cereal." Meditations on world hunger and stock options are preceded with cries such as "There's too many people in Switzerland!" If these sound flaky when pulled out of context, they aren't in entirety. The whole is even greater than the sum of its parts, and each sentence is a brushstroke that, when combined, paints coherence and verve into this inventive show.
As well-written as Word to Your Mama is, its success owed as much to the cast as it did the playwright. Nicole Higgins, Monica Sirignano, and Kate Ward rapid-fired their lines with timing that rivaled a Rolex, and intermeshed their actions like the most intricate of gears. If Word is about the varied voices that sound inside a single mind, these three talented actresses were the embodiment of that premise. No actress said much more than two or three sentences before having the remark answered, taken over or added to by her counterpart. The three never stumbled in this complex task, and even appeared to enjoy themselves. Their uproarious take on saving rain forests was nothing short of a jewel.
The play's sole blemish is its puzzling beginning. With no narrator or hint of what to expect (not even in the program), confusion reigned when the actresses appeared on stage and began the nonlinear tale. No matter. Within minutes Word caught fire and never burned out. Ryan Schmidt's lighting was as timed as the performances, and made the bare stage seem as boundless as the thoughts inside a human mind.
Word to Your Mama is a shining example of
Off-Off-Broadway theater. Mischievous and unconventional enough
to have the audience beaming, yet assured enough to tackle big
themes, Word is unafraid to say something bold and unpretentious
in its willingness to admit it doesn't have all the answers. The
play is as random and enigmatic as the thought process but never
forgets to be entertaining. Given such a fine production at St.
Mark's Studio, both the cast and the crew of this fantastic play
have quite a bit to write home to Mama about.
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Copyright 2000 Ken Jaworowski