NOT “BAD” AT ALL
Three plays shown together in an uncommon structure show strong wit, gay sensibility, and a maturation of local playwright’s talent.
by Jim Farmer, Southern Voice
Process Theatre’s “Bad Mama,” written by local gay playwright Topher Payne, takes motherhood to the extreme. A trio of sketches about the lengths some maternal figures go to for their young, the show is often fresh and funny.
“Bad Mama” opens with “Letters From Home,” which contains three short segments. The first, entitled “What Were You Expecting,” stars Marcie Millard as Shelley, a pregnant mom living in New Jersey who is convinced her new son is going to be a gay, even pulling out a rainbow flag in anticipation.
“The Groom’s Cake” finds a protective mother (Frankie Earle) creating chaos for her son as he is about to get married. Finding fault in all aspects of the wedding, including the bride and cake, she eventually takes a journey that lands her in jail.
In “Wish You Were Here,” a couple breaks up when the father leaves the mother and takes a much-younger male lover. The two argue over what is good for their daughter and try to gain her favor.
Each part of “Letters From Home” is persuasively performed.
Payne debuted the second “Bad Mama” sketch, “Entertaining Lesbians,” off-off-Broadway at the 2004 Manhattan Fall Collection Festival. In it, Rowena (Millard) and Tad (Larry Davis) want to get their daughter into a prestigious school. To gain favor, Rowena invites a lesbian couple with a kid in the school to their home.
Worried that the women won’t think they are cool, Rowena concocts a plan. She makes her African-American cook her best friend for the evening. The plan goes haywire when their daughter is kidnapped and Rowena gets a surprise knock at the door from her trailer trash mother. The lesbians have a secret of their own.
The sharpest skit in “Bad Mama” is “A Lifetime Original Movie Starring Judith Light.” The fictional TV movie is called “Her Moment of Truth in a Crisis: What is Happening to My Life? The Karen Hirshberger-Dittmeyer Story.”
Jane Bass stars as television actress Light, portraying a housewife whose husband (Paine Calabro playing John Stamos) is a serial killer, daughter (Rachel Sorsa as Hilary Duff) becomes a prostitute, and son (Larry Davis as one of the Culkin brothers) is physically abusive. Davis also plays “Facts of Life” alum Nancy McKeon as a butch female cop. Adding to her TV-movie plight, Light’s character gets an un-curable female disease when her breast implant fails. The sketch is cleverly written, poking fun at the melodramatic twists of the genre. Bass sets just the right tone here, taking the material seriously enough but clearly in on the joke.
The performers in “Bad Mama” are collectively a witty bunch. Millard, just off a run of Theater Gael’s “Dancing at Lughnasa,” has a comic flair that is well-suited to the material. Other standouts include Bass and Sorsa.
The overall production is quite humorous and shows a sharpening of the playwright’s talents over past works.