There are countless ways to tell a story onstage, and, yes, it's exciting to find new and unexpected sorts of theatrical exploration involving sound and movement and images and high-tech high jinks. But some of us, well, we're kind of attached to words, and storytelling at its sweetest and simplest form is sometimes enough. This is what we're given here: four actors, scripts in hand, sharing tales of motherhood from 14 writers. And with these particular actors, that's all we need.
Conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein, "In Mother Words" is a lovely collection of stories that, quite intentionally, come from different perspectives to paint a big old American-mom picture: what it means to be, and to have, a mother in this country today.
Granted, the slice of life here is an upwardly mobile one, and director Lisa Peterson does a fantastic job assembling the pieces into a hip and breezy production that moves effortlessly and keeps us on track, even when we're thrown a few curves.
The design team provides just the right backdrop—particularly Jan Hartley's projections and animation by Emily Hubley on Rachel Hauck's stylish screen—for the varied monologues and scenes written by Leslie Ayvazian, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Lisa Ramirez, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Weisman, and Cheryl L. West.
Then there are terrific performers, who, even while reading from the page, dig into the sometimes uneven material and make it soar. Amy Pietz is sly and quirky, particularly effective as Weisman's astounded new mom and Rebeck's adoptive parent. The wonderful Saidah Arrika Ekulona has presence to spare and delivers one of the show's high points in Goldberg's "Stars and Stripes."
For a fun male perspective, James Lecesne is super in Pennette's two-dad tale. And Jane Kaczmarek is absolutely amazing, whether she's embracing her child's choices in Lowe's "Queen Esther," championing a woman's right to choose in Henley's spot-on "Report on Motherhood," or handling an audience member with a repeatedly ringing cell phone. Man, what a gift Kaczmarek is.
Presented by the Geffen Playhouse at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, 10886 LeConte Ave., Westwood. Feb. 23–May 1. Tue.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 8 p.m. (310) 208-5454. www.geffenplayhouse.com.