Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Mother's Day from Helen Back

Holidays with the family can certainly be an adventure. Sometimes the celebrations are happy and festive. Other times it can be a dramafest. In Colin Drucker’s new play Mother’s Day, we watch as a family is torn apart when they reunite on a very specific holiday.
Mother’s Day follows the Pollacks as they come together as a family to celebrate the titular holiday. This Mother’s Day is a special occasion as it is one of the first reunion in a long while and Joey Pollack, who is out and proud as drag queen Helen Back, reveals he is about to be a dad. Drucker’s bold script has its moments. With the exception of Karl Gregory as Joey slash Helen Back, the script and company goe from corny sitcom to overdramatic Lifetime movie. Before the drama comes in full force, the way director Reginald L. Douglas showcases the humor is through a very “here’s the set up, there’s the punchline” manner. Joey slash Helen Back spends the majority of the show dropping zings and very pointed insults, all of which happen to hilarious. The reactions and mannerisms lead to moments that may be better suited for a laugh track. The overall themes Drucker brings to light are quite interesting. The way the Pollacks treat Joey as his Helen Back persona is wonderful to watch. Acceptance is a beautiful thing. But as we soon learn the true nature of the family, the sides each member takes, and specifically the concessions mother Liz takes in her treatment of Joey slash Helen Back is quite horrific. What was once a fun play about a loving family quickly turns into something quite upsetting. The climax truly does tear a family apart. Could this be realistic? Absolutely. But seeing this portrayal on stage is devastating. Liz Pollack is a hateable character. Whether it’s the character or Gregory’s brilliant performance, he’s likeable. When pitted against Liz, there is no way to have any empathy for her.
The ensemble overall is quite polarizing. Karl Gregory is by far the best part of the show. Gregory does a flawless job shifting from “always on” Helen Back and damaged Joey. Gregory’s performance is so strong, he makes the rest of the cast look mediocre at best. Brough Hansen has very little to work with as older brother Nicky. Nicky’s presence allows for trouble to stir up, putting him mostly on the defense. The scene between Hansen and Gregory is the strongest and most grounded in the entire show. Liz Pollack is a despicable character. Renee Claire Bergeron’s portrayal of the horror mom is simply a whiney victim with no redeeming qualities. There are moments when you want to boo Bergeron’s Liz. From what we see of the character, there is no hope for her to get help and change. Bergeron and Neal Lerner as husband Talbott have very little chemistry and believability. The script is a family dramedy at its core. With the addition of a non family member retracts from it's purpose. Rhonda Ayers as Suzanne is more if a device than a necessity. Next to Gregory, Bergeron, Lerner, and Ayers showcase almost a community theater quality to their performance.
Reginald L. Douglas has an almost Jekyll and Hyde approach to the script. Sure, there is comedy and drama within, but they are so drastic they feel as if they’re lifted from two separate plays. His staging is filled with actor movements just to create new stage pictures. Gregory’s Joey slash Helen Back falls victim to this quite often, especially when preparing for a joke. The set by Colin McGurk evokes the lived-in New Jersey home quite well providing the basic necessities. Costume designer Orli Nativ did a fabulous job dressing Helen Back and giving Nicky the local punch. The costumes for the other three, especially Suzanne’s leopard print, were very hokey, reminiscent of the sitcom feel.
Mother’s Day is a script with so much promise. It is a script that needs a nice polish and a stronger vision. Regardless of it’s future, Karl Gregory’s character is an integral part of what this story is.

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