Mary-Beth Manning's solo show, directed by Diana Castle, is an eloquent and unabashed tribute to her tough, loving, feisty Irish mother. In the earlier episodes, dealing with Manning's childhood, her volatile mother's foibles, and life in an Irish-Catholic household in a Boston suburb, it seems like pleasant but lightweight comedy. When she moves to New York City to pursue an acting career, supporting herself with jobs as a hat-check girl and restaurant hostess, there are genuinely hilarious moments. But soon Manning's emotional problems, and the discovery that her mother is suffering from breast cancer, make her dig deeper. Things grow turbulent when her delayed adolescent rebellion coincides with her mother's mastectomy. And she must struggle with emotional ambivalence, when her very real love for her mother is challenged by Mom's cantankerous bossiness. But in the end, we're left with enormous respect and affection for a gallant, indomitable mother who holds on to her perspective and sense of humor even in the face of a terrifying illness.
Manning is a charming and unpretentious performer, whose refusal to overdramatize her material enhances its effectiveness. She etches her characters with sure strokes, capturing her mother's easy swagger, and her father's patience, love, and tolerance. By the end, she emerges as a tough, honest, resilient woman, who can touch our hearts as well as our funny bones.Presented by and at Studio Stage at Elephant Stages, 1078 Lillian Way, Hollywood. June 25–Sept. 12. Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 960-7714. www.plays411.com/mother.