Photo by Liz Lauren
It was Mother’s Day, and I could think of no better way to celebrate than to go to the Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret to see the irreverent, honest, and very funny exploration of the joys, pains, hopes, and fears of women everywhere that is MotherFreakingHood! It was a perfect decision: what I found were moments that sparked specific memories while often making me laugh uncontrollably.
Conceived and written by Julie Dunlop and Sara Stotts, the show shares at least a strand of DNA with the 1983 Sybille Pearson, David Shire, and Richard Maltby, Jr. musical Baby: that show too was about three women in different stages of their lives, one an empty nester, who meet each other in an obstetrician’s waiting room as they find themselves about to begin the winding path into motherhood. Whereas that play focuses entirely on the nine months of pregnancy, though, MotherFreakingHood! dispenses with that important period in just a couple of songs on its way to presenting highlights (and lowlights) from the entire eighteen-year child-raising experience. This longitudinal focus also allows MotherFreakingHood! to show something Baby could not: the lifelong bond that can develop among women going through this experience together even though they may have nothing else at all in common.
It’s this element that forms the glue binding MotherFreakingHood! together: we not only share these women’s experiences with child-raising but also their experiences with each other. In the opening scenes, we get snapshots of the kinds of women (all played by fine Chicago actresses) they are. Tafadzwa Diener plays the youngest of them, Rachel, whose excitement about having her first baby lasts only until the first crisis (childbirth)…surely a common experience for everyone who has ever been a mom. (“I wanted a baby, not an exorcism,” she cries.) Jacquelyne Jones is Angie, the hyper-organized, Type-A, do-everything supermom who goes into her pregnancy knowing she is having a girl (“I already have a boy,” she says; fortunately for her, she is right, though that doesn’t solve all of her problems.)
The soon-to-be friend group is rounded out by Leah Morrow as Marcia, who, with three daughters all but grown, is looking forward to a grown-up vacation in Cabo when all of her future plans are derailed by a pee-stick, and whose sarcastic commentary defines a character who has been there, done that, and is stuck reliving it all…with a son this time around. (“Please, God, keep my son from becoming an asshole!”)
Director/choreographer Heidi Van’s cast also has a fourth member: Maya Rowe, a wonderfully talented comic performer who is tasked to play multiple characters they encounter along the way from a birthing instructor to “Mama Xanax,” a fantasy character that really allows her to strut her stuff as Angie finds out she needs a bit of pharmacological help to weather the fears she encounters bringing up a daughter in today’s world.
When the three moms meet each other again as their babies turn one, they decide to form a support group of sorts, and “Monday Playgroup”—which eventually morphs into a tradition of drinking and commiserating—is born. They help each other get through everything from post-partum blues to concerns that their children are growing up too fast. Rachel’s “Move the Line,” a bravura performance by Diener, is a perfect Act One closer. (She gets to display all of her comic chops in a second act number called “Teenage Driver Hellzone,” which needs no explanation.)
MotherFreakingHood! is a very funny romp through very familiar territory that the two Kansas City playwrights tweak with such fresh ideas—ever seen dancing pills?—that the entire two hours is a total joy. It is playing at the Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret, 3745. N. Southport, Chicago, until June 11. Tickets are available at Mercury Theater.