A darkened, hushed theater has therapeutic qualities. If the show is compelling, it's a place where troubles of the week can be left behind as the drama unfolding onstage transports the audience to a different reality. This was a good week for theater, and an even better week to see "Mother (and me)," which runs at Geva Theatre Center through November 20.
"Mother (and me)" is a one-woman show written and performed by veteran Broadway comedian and actor Melinda Buckley. It follows her journey from the year 2000 to present -- with a fair bit of history mixed in to provide context -- as she cares for her mother, a Hungarian immigrant and single parent who's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. When Buckley debuted the show at the 2014 New York Fringe Festival, it won "Best of the Fest at C.O.W." and went on to play at Second Stage Uptown, Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod, the Bay Street Theatre in Long Island, and Chicago's Greenhouse Theatre as part of the Solo Celebration Festival of one-person shows.
It's not hard to figure out why "Mother (and me)" is a hit with audience members. In many ways, the show is the story of baby boomers around the nation -- many divorced or empty nesters -- facing midlife crisis and eldercare in the same decade of life. And of course, there's another binding thread: mothers. Buckley begins the show by suggesting that the bond between mother and child is stronger than any other relationship that humans form.
Throughout the show, Buckley proves herself a master storyteller who is capable of a wide range of emotions. Not once does her energy slip; she keeps the audience engaged through humor (self-deprecating, dark, and otherwise), accents, and even song-and-dance numbers -- Buckley was part of the international "A Chorus Line" tour, after all.
But if watching the show is therapy for the audience, Buckley's process in creating the show had to be twice that. In a little more than an hour, the audience learns a lot about both Buckley and her mother, Eileen. Some of it is more relatable to certain audience members depending on age and background, but this is a show that will always resonate in some way. "Mother (and me)" is a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming tribute to mothers everywhere.
Add to Buckley's energy quick sound and lighting by Derek Madonia, all overseen by stage manager Katie Klemme. There are no costume changes and the set is largely bare. Buckley's outfit, by costume designer Amanda Doherty, consists of a flowing blue top and black slacks, hose and pumps. The set by Gary Jacobs is comprised of scroll-like cutouts placed in each corner of the stage's frame. Two sets of these cutouts make the action onstage appear almost like a photo in a frame.
The show runs 1 hour and 10 minutes in the Fielding Stage (good news, beverages are allowed in the theater), making "Mother (and me)" a good after-dinner complement for any night when a little humor and a darkened theater is needed.
Afterward, call your mother.
JCC CenterStage opened its 40th season doing what Ralph Meranto does best: producing a new national work, with local actors, for local audiences.