Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grizzly Mama

GRIZZLY MAMA at Dobama, truth may be stranger than fiction

In George Brant’s GRIZZLY MAMA, now on stage at Dobama Theatre, the fictional Deb Marshall moves into the house next to Patty Turnback, an Alaskan Tea Party leader (think Sarah Palin) in order to destroy her. Deb is the daughter of the titular leader of the 20th century women’s movement (think Gloria Steinem) who has supposedly pledged, on her mother’s death bed, to get rid of the ultra-right Turnback. Turnback (note the “clever” play on words) has moved the women’s movement back into the dark ages, the days-of-old when women were homemakers and protected their young against wild animals (liberals). Yes, Grizzly Mamas.

Think the idea is preposterous? Well, think again. On September 20, a new book about Palin will be released by author Joe McGinniss. McGinnis has been studying Palin for three years. He even moved next door to her home to dig up dirt. His purpose? To destroy her by killing the lady’s reputation. So, truth can be stranger than fiction.

On the surface, Brant’s play seems like a farcical, overstated, unbelievable dark comedy of spiteful revenge. It rolls out as a script about murder, motherhood, moose and a bunny rabbit. A little mental digging reveals a study of the relationships between mothers and daughters and how they bond, conflict, love and betray each other.

Brants’ character’s are overdone. Deb is written as a divorced out-of-control suburban mom who reimagines herself as a righteous liberal avenger. Her motivations and actions seem unrealistic. Her daughter, Hannah, is an overdrawn self-centered texting teenager who gets wrapped up in the hunt when she becomes friends with the Grizzly Mama’s daughter. A daughter with a major problem, especially for the daughter of a religious ultra-conservative.

The script was commissioned by Dobama to compliment the political atmosphere in which we find ourselves and is about to explode even larger. It is filled with many clever lines and ideas. Daughter Hannah, for example, explains that she is going to a high school where she is taking an AP (advanced placement) course in Intelligent Design and is writing a required paper on Jesus and the Dinosaurs. Deb goes to a local gun store, where she is sold an Uzi-type gun and gets a free handgun thrown in. In order to stop her daughter from texting, Deb nukes the girl’s cell phone in the microwave, but Hannah’s fingers just keep texting away, even without the phone, assuming that the messages will get to her friends back home by cosmic energy. And, Laurel, Turnback’s daughter, complains because her chastity ring has gotten too tight for her finger due to her unwed pregnancy.

On the other hand, the characters don’t ring true, the lines are often forced, there are so many text message references that, as one member of the audience whispered, “If I hear one more omg, lol, or wuzup, I’m going on stage and strangle someone. (The program has a page listening texting terminology for those who are interested.) The logical bridges between scenes aren’t always clearly developed. One must wonder whether the author is aiming at high comedy, farce, or has some really strong message which gets lost because of the lack of a clear rudder.

There are some excellent performances. Erin Scerbak develops a clear Laurel. She is believable in being conflicted and vulnerable. She often develops meaning beyond what her lines say. Caitlin Lewins (Hannah) plays teenage angst and hysteria with ease. Heather Anderson Boll has some problems developing a consistent character as Deb, but much of that appears to be the lines she is given, not her acting.

Laura Kepley’s direction is generally on-target, but there are some lag times in the pacing.

Jill Davis’s log cabin house design gives the right feel and leaves lots of room for the characters to move with ease. Sound designer Richard Ingraham’s use of “I Am Woman” as background and scene change music, is a stroke of genius.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GRIZZLY MAMA is not well written, but there is enough humor and nice acting to make it a pleasant evening of theatre that could incite some interesting going home discussions.