This 20-part compendium is beautifully varied and paced, and the seemingly random episodes packed with cross-referential resonance. Sure, one of the mothers complains about having an "office" that doubles as a laundry room (that's Adriana Trigiani, who has written nine best-selling novels between sorting and folding), but many of these works chart lesser-explored territory.
In Marco Pennete's delightful "If We're Using a Surrogate," James Lescene shines as a different sort of "mother" -- a gay man fulfilling both parental roles. Or take Lameece Issaq's "Nooha's List," in which a Muslim mother (portrayed by Randy Graff ) comes up with just the right tale of adolescent mortification to bond with her furiously rebellious daughter (played by April Yvette Thompson).
Another surprise comes from Amy Irving, looking angelic but summoning her snarky side in Brett Paesel's "Slow to Warm" as her character bristles at the social niceties feigned on the mommy bench at the local park. She sees her peers' amateur-psychiatric observations for just what they are: undermining attacks. "Talking with these mommies," Irving intones sweetly, "makes me want to bite them."
Right from the outset, the language in these works put to rest any fears of Hallmark homilies. Early in the program, the marvelously labile Thompson performs Cheryl L. West's "Squeeze, Hold, Release," a phrase which, as her character observes, could indeed serve "metaphorically" as a definition of motherhood. But it's also, as delivered by her own finger-wagging, advice-wielding mother, a hysterically explicit game plan for sustaining a marriage.
There are also many moments of pathos and strong emotion: notably, when Lecesne plays caretaker to a mother caving in to senescence, or when Thompson, as the parent of a soldier overseas, hones a provisional dirge she hopes she'll never need.
With any luck, theatergoers all around the country will get to see a production of this show. But to see it in top form, head to Hartford.