As family secrets go, Goheen's -- which she dangles teasingly for a good quarter-hour before getting to the goods -- is definitely a doozy! A horrendous crime occurred on her matrilineal side two generations back and the fallout sentenced her mother, Marcia, to an orphanage and colored her entire outlook on life. (The "Maria" who inspires Marcella's quest for clarity is Marcia's missing mother.)
The script's narrative is shaped by a road trip that Goheen undertakes, with her mother in tow as semi-willing cohort, in search of distant, estranged relatives who she hopes will be able to fill in the missing pieces. She turns up photos, documents, and the like, videotaping all the while.
One of the odder things about the stage piece is that, the 80-something Marcia, whom we meet in Goheen's unsteady-cam video clips, doesn't seem in the least bit maladjusted -- maybe because "the secret" took place when she was an infant. Nor does this this seemingly ordinary and plainspoken woman bear any resemblance to the grande dame that Goheen embodies when ostensibly speaking in her mother's voice.
Come to think of it, you can't help noticing before long that all the characters that Goheen portrays, from "Ma" to semi-toothless Uncle Frank, act -- or rather overact -- pretty much alike and speak in the same orotund, plummy manner. The disjunct between Goheen's real relatives, projected filmically, and the uniformly affected way in which she depicts them looms as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Vintage photos of old Colorado mining towns spur temporary curiosity, but all too soon Goheen is off and running down the old genealogy trail. While Goheen's maternal lineage is certainly colorful enough, there's no bore like a genealogy bore -- except maybe the kind of narcissist who insists on relating his or her dreams. Goheen does that, too, further imposing on our our presumed fascination.
A firmer director than Larry Moss might have modulated Goheen's delivery, advising her to vary the tone and tempo. However, it's hard to imagine anyone up to the task of reining in Goheen's galloping ego.
Indeed, The Maria Project emerges not so much as an homage to a neglected ancestor nor as agitprop decrying violence against women, but as an actress' vanity project, using her grandmother's tragedy as a ticket to ride.