note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Richard Pacheco
Playwright George Brant has a history over the past three or four years in writing plays about some tough independent women and this play is no exception. Last year the Gamm staged his excellent ďGroundedĒ and return this year with yet another fine production, this time he leaves behind the female fighter pilot grounded due to her unexpected pregnancy and confined to flying a drone in a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert to a tale of politics brought boiling to a near carnival atmosphere of extremism and radicalism. The results are often fiercely funny and powerful theatre.
Deb Marshall is a divorced mother of a teenage daughter who moves to Alaska to become a liberal avenger when she moves next door to right wing Patti who happens to be running for president. Deb is shamed and embarrassed by what she considers betrayal of her ultra liberal activist motherís politics and activism since she slipped quietly into the role of a stay at home mother. Deb feels she betrayed her motherís ideal and her mother and ended up a daughter who gave her only extreme disappointment by settling for a more traditional role. So Deb develops some dark plans for Patti and wants to garner the support of her daughter Hannah into the mix.
The play shelters no political view from relentless observation which finds its roots in dark, raucous humor.
Casey Seymour Kim is the hapless Deb, struggling to make up for the disappointments she felt she gave her mother when she failed to follow in her feminist and ultra liberal life and beliefs. Deb traded in her motherís activisms to become the wife of a doctor and became a stay at home mom in Ohio. Her motherís death and her motherís last words to her inspire her to move to the wilds of Alaska next door to an ultra right wing woman ho is running for president. The transformation inspires Deb to devise a radical plan to get her in good with her motherís memories, truly insane and radical actions. Kim is excellent in the role, bringing verve and sincerity to the woman caught in a diabolical internal conflict in an attempt to soother the memory of disappointing her mother. She also wants to entice her daughter to join her in this newly formed quest. Kim deftly manages high hilarity at Debís outrageous words and actions with an impeccable comic timing and flair. She never ends up a caricature despite the often outlandish things she says and does.
Amanda Ruggiero is 17 year old Hannah, Debís daughter. She is very much a typical teenager, glued to her smart phone forever texting to the point her hand continues even when she no longer holds the cell phone. Hannah is at a loss to be stranded in the wilds of Alaska, with her mother going increasingly wild in her ideas and passionate desire to make up for years of disappointment to Hannahís grandmother. She is at a loss when her mother tries to invite her to collude with her on an outrageous plan that defies logic. Ruggiero is excellent as Hannah. She delivers a performance that is vivid and honest. She ably captures the confusions and interests of a teenager with a carefully etched performance that is fascinating and endearing by turns.
The final character ins this is Laurel, played by Betsy Rinaldi. Laurel is the daughter of the woman running for president who resents the attention her motherís choices has on her, bringing in the attention of media and public alike. Laurel loves her mother but also harbors some resentments against her as well and for the position that she finds herself in with no apparent escape. Rinaldi is also excellent as a teenager also at odds with her mother and her motherís wishes and politics.
Director Rachel Walshe shows skill and verve, getting the most out of the at times uncomfortable humor and darker moments.
Josh Christoffersenís scenic design is effective with the hominess of the cabin simply conveying and the stands of birch trees effectively in evoking the wilderness.
It is a riveting production with many laugh vividly out loud moments amind at times uncomfortable moments. It is well worth seeing.
"Grizzly Mama" runs from Jan. 7 to Feb. 7 at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket. Tickets are $41-$49, and $30 for previews Jan. 7-10. Visit gammtheatre.org, or call (401) 723-4266.