The Gift Theatre is premiering Anna Ouyang Moench’s seering drama (or brutally dark comedy) Mothers at Filament Theatre and it is not a play for the faint of heart. Director Halena Kays leads us all through the typical landmines of motherhood with clipped pacing in a slyly smart and very saucy production. The story begins with the queen bee mother of three, Ariana (played by charismatic Caren Blackmore), ruling the roost at the Mommy Baby meet up. Easy to sway Meg ( played with earnest dedication and trying too hard energy by Stephanie Shum) is hosting her college pal Vick (played with dry wit and wisdom by Krystel McNeil), the working mom who is breast feeding. Vick is even keeping up a pumping schedule on the road. I was immensely impressed at the stark realism of her onstage pumping and expressing– after doing it myself for almost a decade I had physical flashbacks! There’s the stay at home dad ( played with awkward testosterone and toxic shame by Alex Ireys) and the wordless nanny Gladys (played with grounded alertness by Lynette Li). There is banter and light but deadly parrying about breastfeeding or formula, working or staying home, vaccinations or not. There is an undercurrent of scary. And then the bomb goes off.
Isolated for what appears to be months in a war zone, these women and a man turn on each other in truly shocking ways: you and the rest of the audience will gasp at the horror. In the end the only survivor will be the nanny, and only because one senses she has been through wars before and possesses mad survival skills and she isn't afraid to use them. When Gladys speaks, what she says is important and she goes straight to what matters. She has no illusions and no sugar coating.
This play draws figurative, emotional and actual battle lines. It makes you question your own choices. You will come out of the theater wrung out. And asking yourself, what would I do if I faced a similar situation? I suspect somewhere in the world right now, there are women faced with similar options like the one depicted in pepto bismol pink here (Laura Nichols" adorable set easily goes nightmare), and they are being forced to make the same decisions, the same calculations. This is powerful storytelling, but don’t take a younger or more sensitive viewer.
Mothers is playing at Filament Theatre 4041 N. Milwaukee, in Chicago on Thursdays through Sundays through March 3, 2024. For tickets and information go to https://thegifttheatre.org/event/mothers-by-anna-ouyang-moench-3-2/
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