mother's day
Curtain Calls
By Donald V. Calamia
Review: 'Mother's Day'

It's not often that a regional theater located so far from
the Great White Way has an opportunity to produce the
North American premiere of a new play written by an
up-and-coming and critically acclaimed playwright. It's
also rare - given the success-to-failure rate of new
works - for that show to be a critical and commercial hit.

"Mother's Day," now in production at Lansing's
BoarsHead Theatre, is a fine example of the quality work
Michigan's regional professional theaters are capable of
staging. Given the show's slick production values,
uniformly superb cast and comically ironic script, the
folks at the BoarsHead have done everything possible
to make "Mother's Day" a critical success.

Playwright Jeff Baron's witty script tells the comedic
story of a seemingly typical American family about to
celebrate the annual Hallmark holiday. What we find
instead is a family in which keeping score and choosing
sides are a time honored tradition.

Comfortably ensconced at its head is Estelle, a
matriarchal mother and grandmother, whose family is
making the ritualistic trek home to share a holiday meal.
It's a day she won't soon forget.

From the very start, Estelle's big day progresses from
one unpleasant surprise to another. It peaks with a
particularly nasty encounter with daughter, Leslie (a
lovely and successful golf pro who brings home her
latest - and butchest - girlfriend to meet the family), after
which Estelle suffers a stroke.

From there, the script's delicious irony takes over: The
outcast provides the voice of sanity, long-simmering
feelings are brought to the surface and tightly held
family secrets are revealed. And some things never
change.

It's easy to see why actress Carmen Decker is a
long-time favorite of BoarsHead audiences. Her
portrayal of Estelle is priceless: She's not the evil,
manipulative witch some lesser-talented thespian could
make her; instead, she's played as the lovable and
shrewd (but never shrew-like) despot who simply
enjoys being in control of her surroundings. Decker
especially shines in the second half when she must act
without the advantage of talking. There's no doubt what
she's trying to communicate!

Baron also gives each of the other actors their moment
to shine. Their near flawless performances enhance the
script, something for which most authors and directors
would gladly give their firstborn child.

Kudos go to Evelyn Orbach (as Estelle's younger and
totally devoted sister, Marilyn), Brooke Behmke (as
favored son, Jonathon), Rebecca Covey (who, as
daughter-in-law Carmen, sometimes sounds more
Russian than Castilian Spanish), Susan Felder (as
girlfriend Wendy, who escapes the family dinner only to
encounter them again on her own turf), and Adrianne
Cury (who stands out as daughter Leslie). There's also
one additional character, unseen and uncredited, who
serves as comic relief during the otherwise serious
second act.

Director John Peakes has staged a slick and highly
entertaining production. Credit must also be given to
Rob Eastman-Mullins who created an imaginative and
fully functional set (and lighting design) that is quite
impressive.

Rating: ****.
Muttertag - Schauspielhaus Wuppertal, Germany

"Jeff Baron is one of the shooting stars of the
American theatre scene and a precise observer of
human weaknesses and errors."
Teatro FAAP - Sao Paulo, Brazil

"A dramatic comedy that approaches the problems of a middle
class family in an agile, amused and impressive way.  Jeff
Baron, author of the great success "Visiting Mr. Green",
believes in the possibility of the interior progress of the human
being.
Ensemble Theatre - Sydney, Australia

"Mr. Baron has hit the bull’s eye once again in
creating characters which are so true to life that this
reviewer, for one, felt extremely vulnerable.  He has
a refreshingly keen ear for dialogue and amazing
skill in creating one-liners that score deep meaning
as well as laughter."