Previews & Reviews

The Comic Highs and Lows of Middle-Motherhood

Retreading their tried and tested form of mom-centric comedy (momedy? Seems like a genre worth creating) the women of the hit series return with Mom’s the Word 3: Nest ½ Empty, sharing their stories of mothering today’s millennials.

Mom’s the Word 3 follows the five moms (the same performers which originated the first Mom’s the Word in the 90s) as they recount stories from their emerging lives as empty-nesters. Somewhere between storytelling and standup, they recount with varying degrees of wryness stories of children moved out but moving back in, dissatisfaction with partners, anxieties over aging and health, and the general travails of being a middle-aged middle-class woman in today’s society.

There’s a lot of heart and humour as these women bring up all the good-and-ugly parts of mothering adult children. The joy of having your children come home turning to frustration as you come to think that they might be “the worst possible combination of your DNA.” The realization that, with the kids out of the picture, you and your partner may not have much uniting you, a marriage of separate bedrooms and lives. The real emotional heavy lifting of the piece happens as unquestioningly real elements of the moms’ lives come through: the aftermath of a child having near-fatal accident, an aging parent who’s becoming increasingly incapable, a spouse with a deeply challenging medical diagnosis. These snippets bring a depth to the performances and ground the madcap antics and produce some really touching theatre. There’s also a lot of laughter to be had, depending on your comic taste and whether or not you’ve raised children who are now in their mid twenties to thirties.

The choice of the word “antics” is, unfortunately apt for the piece. The anecdotes shared come out with such a speed and from all directions that picking up the heart in them is nigh-impossible. The delivery of these bits have has polished so highly that it’s nearly impossible to tell if they happened in the first place. Doubtless there’s a lot of truth to it, but the facts of the events have been so deeply covered with a veneer of comedy that it’s hard to see them as real events that happened to real people. This distance between performer and performance is most explicit in the flashy act one finale, a mashup of parodies of current(ish) Top 40 hits detailing the ridiculous elements of modern middle-motherhood. The entire vocal track of this admittedly clever and well choreographed piece is prerecorded, the performers lip-syncing and dancing around the stage, which, given the opportunity of the intimate space at the Belfry, feels like a lazy choice.

Mom’s the Word 3 may not be entirely for everyone, but there’s certainly something in it for anyone. While a lot of the humour may come across as an ensemble delivering menopause jokes and complaining about the way kids are, there are some real moments of heart, touching on family universals: feelings of fear and hope, vexation and, most importantly, love.

Playing till August 12 at The Belfry, tickets an information available at belfry.bc.ca

Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw


My Funny Valentine: Important, well-written, but missing something

The kind of show that really makes you want to feel, think, laugh, and cry, My Funny Valentine, written by Dave Deveau and directed by Cameron Mackenzie, manages to almost do that, frustrating the emotional needs created by a well-written and important piece of theatre.

My Funny Valentine is an examination of the 2008 murder of Larry King, a 15 year old student in Oxnard, California, who was killed by one of his classmates, Brandon McInerney, 14, apparently because Larry asked Brandon to be his valentine. This solo piece, performed by Connor Wylie, tells the story of a community coming to terms with this tragedy from the points of view of community members. In a series of monologues, Wylie moves from being a local reporter, to a fellow student, to teachers and parents, with each story being a tight little arc, telling personal accounts of coping in the face of terrible events.

The real strength of My Funny Valentine is in the humanizing of the community’s grief, and its reminder that the reactions of people to these events are not monolithic or uniform. Breaking the story is a boon to the reporter’s career, but forces him to contend with having gotten ahead because of an awful act. A teacher is catalyzed by the slaying to champion work for LGBTQ rights, but also stymies her own life, making her unable to move past this tragedy after a full decade. Rather than fall into an easy hagiographic portrayal of the children involved, My Funny Valentine points to the murky details of reality which complicate our responses: Larry had a history of disruption, sought attention, and deliberately provoked other students, and Brandon came from an exceptionally troubled home, where gun violence had already laid a finger. Nobody denies the tragedy, nobody thinks it’s a good thing, but the responses are varied, ranging from righteous fury to sardonic acceptance of the new norms. It is a testament to Deveau’s writing that these all come off as genuine, considered ideas, and provoke the audience to talk about, and more importantly act on, ways to foster a world where children do not shoot other children.

There is, however, a problem with the piece as presented, and it’s rather hard to pin down precisely. Put it this way: after seeing a work about such a tragic and senseless event, and the grief which follows, it’s fair to expect to be emotionally drained, and this production didn’t manage to make that connection. Wylie is clearly a very talented performer, but there’s something missing from the portrayal, the characters appearing on stage coming across more as characters than as living people. While saying all the right words, the mannerisms of each character are more like caricatures thrown at an improv sketch than those of real people. There’s the valley girl, there’s the resigned teacher, there’s the angry conservative dad. By the third time the audience sees Helen, the teacher who is most deeply troubled by this, her appearance is as tiresome as a Fred Armisen character overstaying its welcome. The gap between performance and connection may be with the direction, though, failing to ground these people as people before moving on to staging and more exciting things. Without that, these speakers come across just as tropes, well spoken, well meaning tropes, but tropes nonetheless. Ultimately, it may benefit from being taken on by a different team, letting a new set of eyes see the piece for what it could be, rather than what the writer and the director have created it to be.

My Funny Valentine is a great play, and a work which deserves and demands reexamination and repeat performance. Though this incarnation may not punch at the level that the play requires, it is an important piece which must be seen and talked about.

Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw


Chorus of Disapproval: The Perfect Ending

Langham Court Theatre

Langham finishes its 89th season with Alan Ayckbourne’s comedy A Chorus of Disapproval, directed by Langham regular Wendy Merk.

Chorus is an extremely fitting play for an amateur society to take on; it follows the travails of everyman Guy Jones (Evan Roberts) after he joins the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society (PALOS for short) for their production of the 1728 ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera. The production, directed by Dafydd ap Llewellyn (Jaymes D. Goodman), is taking a long time to make progress and actors are dropping out and getting canned all over the place, providing Guy ample opportunity to rise through the ranks from lowly Crook-Finger’d Jack to leading man Macheath. On his rise to the top, Guy manages to seduce the director’s wife, Hannah (Kelly Vanderswan), and Fay Hubbard (Kristin Pickup), one of the members of the company and the wife of resident lothario Ian (Wayne Yercha). Much of the second act centres around Guy juggling the affections of these women, as well as some political intrigue over ownership of a piece of land adjoining Guy’s employer’s property. The ups and downs of Guy are largely reflective of the conflicts of The Beggar’s Opera, transposed to a community theatre.

The piece is perfectly suited to the regulars at Langham, providing a sort of meta-theatrical examination of community theatre and the British amateur theatre tradition in particular. Little details will be immediately familiar to anyone who has worked on a community production of any sort: actors working their way back out of position after being placed in the right spots, an exuberant (and somewhat maniacal) director (played with perfect fervor by Goodman), and a rehearsal process which can seem to drag on when an overambitious amateur keeps bungling their lines. Highlighting the strength of a good community theatre, the ensemble features both returning regulars, talented newcomers to Langham’s stage, and brand new actors as well. Like the people of the PALOS, the players are clearly engaged in a labour of love, both loving the material, and the culture that it exemplifies.

The show, for all its strengths, is a little uneven, with a much stronger first act than second, and somewhat bumpy pacing. While there’s a sense that there must be some sort of time crunch (characters do repeatedly refer to the number of months left) there’s no sense of this on stage, as the two leading men never vary in their costuming, while the women do. Roberts’ Guy is also hard to pin down, without a real sense of who the character is. When performing as the characters which Guy is cast as, he shines, but when back in the role of the mild-mannered am-dram newcomer, the character doesn’t come off the page. While there’s a clear affection for the material, there’s a roughness to it, a lack of attention to detail, taking the form of repetitive props (those same pewter steins that have been making their way through Victoria’s theatre scene for the last two decades) and a set that only really works for two scenes throughout the piece.

Overall A Chorus of Disapproval is a fitting end to Langham’s 89th season, and a good work to go out on. There’s plenty of humour and heart in this piece, and something to love, particularly if you’ve ever found yourself volunteering with a society like the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society.

Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw

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