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If You Don’t Take Your Mom to Carnegie’s “Motherhood Out Loud”, At Least Call Her After

Review by Jack Crumley of Motherhood Out Loud: The Carnegie

I’m wrapping up my second year of seeing shows at The Carnegie for the League of Cincinnati Theatres. One of my favorites there was Nora Ephron’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which involved a series of vignettes that told stories of life as a woman, all focused on clothing. Reading the synopsis, I got the impression that Motherhood Out Loud would be in the same vein: an honest, funny, and poignant look at the various aspects of being a mother. And I was not disappointed.

Motherhood Out Loud premiered at the Hartford Stage Company in 2010. It was co-conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and features the work of multiple contemporary playwrights including Lisa Loomer, Cincinnati’s own Theresa Rebeck, and Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley. It features four women and a man telling stories all centered around being/having a mother at different points in life. Much like in Love, Loss, and What I Wore, the relatively small space at the Carnegie feeds into the intimacy of the material. These actors are talking about important–if sometimes incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking–moments in life. From giving birth, to the first day of school, to adoption, to graduation, to the spectre of death, I was extremely impressed with how thoroughly the concept of (capital M) Motherhood was discussed.

The Carnegie production is directed by Jodie Meyn, who last directed another Carnegie favorite of mine, the princess-centric Disenchanted! Meyn graduated from the Second City of Chicago Conservatory and NKU and has been teaching and directing in the Covington diocese for the last decade. She’s also bringing first hand knowledge of this show’s subject matter, having given birth to her third child last year.

This is an incredibly challenging script. Some of the sketches have more dialogue than others, and most of them are monologues, but all of them call on the cast to bring such an intense honesty to their performances. Even the humorous parts are very grounded in reality, and many of them are still quite bittersweet.

Each member of the cast has at least one moment to shine. Erin Carr’s most powerful moment for me at Sunday’s matinee was in an Act I scene called “Baby Bird.” She’s explaining to the audience the multiple conversations she’s had about how she has a 12-year-old biological son and also a young daughter she adopted from China: how there’s nothing unusual about their family, and how she loves her little girl just as much as her son. Carr has a great rhythm in her delivery of going through how silly, banal, and frustrating the whole discussion is. The scene gets quite emotional when you start to think about the idea that this woman’s daughter would feel different or cast out in any way. Carr also gets a more dramatic scene in Act II’s “Stars and Stripes” as a mother talking about her fears for her son who’s serving in the military.

Liz Carman is new to the Carnegie stage, but her performances really run the gamut between hilarious and heart wrenching. In Act I’s “Next to the Crib,” she’s a new mom sleeping on the floor to take care of her baby and also to stay away from her sick husband. Then in “Queen Esther,” she talks about having a son who prefers to wear dresses, and all of the emotional turmoil she has to sustain from other people judging her child. It’s another tear-up moment for anyone with a pulse. Near the end of Act I, she’s a woman dating a man with children in “My Almost Family,” that describes the awkwardness (and sometimes guilt) of being a father’s new girlfriend. Carman also has one of the best lines in the show with, when asked multiple times if she’s gotten her son to finally write his valedictorian speech, “I AM WORKING ON IT!”

Nazanin Khodadad plays possibly the widest range of character types. She plays the mom who stands outside the school on the first day of class, feverishly waving goodbye to her daughter. In “Nooha’s List,” her daughter is going through her first menstrual period, and she talks about how it can affect things like celebrating Ramadan. In Act II, Khodadad plays a great grandmother being interviewed by a 12-year-old in “Report on Motherhood,” where she broaches some pretty heady topics like the difference between liking your children and loving your children.

Martha Slater’s roles essentially open and close the show. I’ve seen her convey serious gravitas in the Covedale’s production of Doubt, A Parable last year. This time, it was nice to see her playing characters who are willing to joke about their shortcomings. Slater really played up the awkward level of being an outsider at the park in “New in the Motherhood.” She also closes out Act I with an emotional performance in “Michael’s Date,” where she plays a mother whose autistic son takes a girl to the movies. Slater then has the task of bringing the show full circle with the closing scene “My Baby,” a monologue where a woman is describing the complexities of being both a mother and a daughter.

R DeAndre Smith brings his comedy chops from Carnegie’sproduction of The Full Monty, and plays them to the hilt as a gay man starting a family with his husband in the hilarious “If We’re Using a Surrogate, How Come I’m the One with Morning Sickness?” No surprise, Smith has to fill some necessary supporting roles as a husband or store clerk in some of the other stories. But, he lays out a sincere tale near the end of Act II with “Elizabeth,” as a divorced man who’s moved in with his mother and starts to see signs that she shouldn’t be alone any more.

Again, the level of emotional complexity in every one of these scenes is through the roof, and the cast should really be praised for the work they put in. Much of Act II felt a little rushed in Sunday’s matinee, but that might’ve just been me not wanting the show to end.

Also worth noting: the set design. Speaking before the show started, Producer Maggie Perrino called attention to the sculptures that lined the back of the stage. These tall, mostly pink, curvy shapes were created by Jenny Roesel Ustick, who’s the artist behind several building murals you can see in downtown Cincinnati. There’s a strong femininity to the stage pieces that helps set the tone for the show nicely.

This is not just a show for women and girls. It’s a show for anyone who is a mother, has a mother, or knows a mother. Theatregoers should be aware that there’s a fair amount of cursing in this show, and some topics might be considered unsavory, but I would say it avoids any full-on vulgarity. Give the mother in your life an early present and take her to the Carnegie in Covington for this show.

Motherhood Out Loud has a short run on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through April 29. Tickets are available here.