THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME by Katherine DiSavino
WHITBY COURTHOUSE THEATRE
Produced by: Ted Niles and Brandon Rideout, Staged Managed by: Stephanie Lehman, Directed and Designed by: Brandon Rideout, With Sharon Berman, Darren Brunke, Melissa Gibson, Nancy Gleed, Genevieve Hebert-Carr, Shael Risman, Lincoln Trudeau
Ah, moving day! One of the most difficult tasks for young people especially for those who are trying to launch themselves from the safety net of their parents’ homes and into lives of their own. To close the 2016-2017 season, WCT has selected THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME, a rom-com about a young couple who has decided to move in together to test the waters to see if they are compatible.
This script is not Tony award winning material but, for the two hours you are watching the production, it’s fun. Since our world is in such a state of chaos and fear, there is nothing wrong with silly or implausible plot lines to take us away from these woeful world events for a couple of hours.
After the opening night show, Director Brandon Rideout told me that he had turned down this script three times when he was approached to direct it. When he was asked a fourth time, Rideout re-read the script again, mulled it over carefully, and then agreed to do it because he wanted to move the script beyond the initial sitcom feel that it has at first glance. The opening night audience laughter indicated he was successful in his objective.
Along with Ian Handscomb and his team’s believably realistic construction of an empty apartment, Rideout’s set design is effectively stark. As we enter the auditorium, we literally believe that we have entered a unit complete with the painter’s white and beige colour on the walls. Character blocking is smooth and helps to delineate which character is in control at certain moments. Lighting is taut and helps to focus our attention at certain moments.
This apartment is set in an ‘up and coming’ (in other words, seedy) Chicago neighbourhood where we are first introduced to the on the prowl and slightly tipsy building superintendent, Max Mirowski (an amusing Melissa Gibson), who only performs a customary and very quick dust, clean and polish. During this silent walk on before the play begins, Ms. Gibson pokes fun at what might happen or occur in large dwellings before new tenants arrive. As the story progresses, some of Max’s ill-timed appearances further contribute to the ensuing off the wall turn of events.
Genevieve Hebert-Carr and Darren Brunke are Olivia Keegan and Gabe Lawson, personable, likeable and down to earth young people who have decided to move from New York City to begin their lives and careers. Their first problem? A chair will not fit through the doorway. The script directions call for the chair to remain in the doorway before the play begins; however, Rideout cleverly opens the play by showing how Olivia and Gabe are responsible for placing said chair in the doorway.
Ms. Hebert-Carr and Mr. Brunke have appeared in other local community theatre productions and both show an intuitive understanding of comic timing from this opening bit of shtick. Olivia Keegan is the epitome of organized efficiency and Ms. Hebert-Carr maintains this quality until the surprise arrival of her mother and father. Mr. Brunke’s mannerisms and movements reminded me of two fine comic actors – the late John Ritter and Jim Carrey. Ritter and Carey see the importance of maintaining believability in the most unbelievable of situations, and Mr. Brunke rises admirably and successfully to this challenge.
Nancy Gleed, Shael Risman, Sharon Berman and Lincoln Trudeau confidently play the couple’s sets of parents. For the diehard community theatre fans, when Lydia Lawson (Ms. Gleed) in exasperation calls her husband, Wyatt (Mr. Risman), “an old poop”, ON GOLDEN POND comes to mind as central character Ethel Thayer called her cantankerous husband, Norman, by the same loving term. Ms. Gleed pulls out many ‘motherly’ techniques to make sure son puts mama first. Shael Risman has DAD figuratively written all over him and we want to go up and give him a big bear hug. Wyatt is well intentioned in wanting to help set his son up in the apartment, but Wyatt also understands how important alone time is for a young couple especially when he and Lydia have misunderstood and believe they have inadvertently and hilariously walked in on an intimate moment between Olivia and Gabe.
Karen and Carter Keegan (Sharon Berman and Lincoln Trudeau) offer a diverting contrast to the Lawsons. While Lydia is uptight in not wanting to let go of the purse strings with regard to her son, Karen (Ms. Berman) is pragmatic in her relationship with her daughter. Like Mr. Risman, Ms. Berman (who is married in real life to Mr. Risman) has MOM written all over her figuratively. As Carter is her second husband, Karen does not want her daughter to make the same mistakes. We can sense tension in some moments between Karen and Olivia, but in the second act the humour mounts once again as the women do shots while the men have left to track down Olivia and Gabe’s stolen van of furniture and belongings. Carter Keegan knows when to keep his mouth shut on matters that do not pertain to him; however, Mr. Trudeau is priceless when he returns in a drunken stupor with Wyatt after the men have tried to track down the stolen van.
There are some sidesplitting moments in the second act involving Messrs. Risman, Trudeau, Brunke, a tub of ice cream and whipped cream. On top of that, keep your eye out for the Coco Puffs cereal and its journey. And what is the message that audiences will take away from THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME at the end of the evening? Kate Miller in her review of the play for The News-Herald in Northern Ohio wrote “THINGS delves into the divide between generations, looking at the perspectives of how our mothers approached love and relationships ‘back in the day’ versus how couples approach their life journeys now. The wonderful revelation in the play seems to be that all three couples on stage get it right, despite their differing attitudes on the correct ‘order’ of how a couple should move into the different stages of a relationship.”
THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME continues at the Whitby Courthouse Theatre, 416Centre Street South, April 20-22 and 27-29, 2017 at 8 pm with a 2:00 pm matinee on April 22. Tickets are available at the door before each performance or visit www.whitbytheatre.org for further information. You may also purchase tickets at Lafontaine, 100 Brock Street South in Whitby or call 905-430-3774.