The concept is simplicity itself: Four actors have interviewed their own parents about their marital train wrecks. The script, a collaboration among the quartet, director Anne Kauffman, and dramaturge Janice Paran, uses the parents’ actual words. Three of the performers enact their mothers, and one plays both parents. In the course of an hour, early romances and late-night arguments are relived, the scar tissue caused by emotional wounds is revealed, and the journey from innocent newlywed to cynical survivor is chronicled with humor and pathos.
Jennifer R. Morris, who also conceived the show, is wickedly brash and intoxicatingly attractive as Beverly, the mother quoted above. Though she could be labeled as self-centered, Morris’ Beverly is loving and full of life. The actor joyfully tears into every story with unflinching yet vibrant intensity. Whether Beverly is explaining a quarrel over a Tiffany lamp, recounting one of the many “crying lunches” she had with her husband during the divorce proceedings, or enumerating her conditions for the separation, you simply cannot take your eyes off Morris.
Caitlin Miller is simultaneously prickly and tender in her depiction of the disillusionment of her mother, Mary Anne, with both the Catholic Church and her charismatic spouse. I love the way she shouts, “I don’t remember, Caitlin!” when coming to a detail Mary Anne would rather forget. Robbie Collier Sublett crosses genders without stooping to caricature in a nuanced portrait of his no-nonsense Texan mother, Janet. Matthew Maher skillfully switches between his dad, John, and his mom, Frinde, giving each distinct characteristics, such as a bark of a self-deprecating laugh for John and a shy sideways glance for Frinde.
With the aid of Ben Stanton’s warm lighting, Mimi Lien’s homey set, and Caite Hevner’s atmospheric projections, Kauffman and the cast re-create the feeling of a visit to see the folks, with all the fear, loathing, and love such a trip can entail. They also offer a lesson to aspiring actors: Your past can be valuable source material for creating theater.
Presented by the Flea Theater and the Civilians at the Flea Theater, 41 White St., NYC. April 12–May 6. Tue.–Sat., 7 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 3 p.m. (No performance Sun., April 15.) (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.theflea.org.