Ariana Shore, Chris Teustch, Jonathan White,
and Lauren Connolly in Reconstructing Mama
(© Tim Brown)
Ariana Shore, Chris Teustch, Jonathan White,
and Lauren Connolly in Reconstructing Mama
(© Tim Brown)
Poor Mama. It's bad enough that she's crazy and eventually kills herself at the age of 53 in Reconstructing Mama, now at the Kirk Theatre. But when her four kids try to come to terms with how their mother shaped their lives in the format of a musical jam-packed with art songs, she might want to petition for equal time.

There is nothing wrong with the fact that co-creators Stephen Svoboda and N. David Williams have chosen to tell a dysfunctional family story, but the end result is an odd combination of the unrealistic and the arch. Either failing on its own would scuttle this production, but the two together form an unholy alliance that makes enjoyment - even appreciation -- of this piece extremely unlikely for anyone not personally connected to the show.

The musical takes place on the day of (and the evening after) Mama's funeral. Her assembled adult children open the show describing (in song) their years growing up in Westchester. Each of them claims that their childhoods, adolescence, and young adulthoods were all happy. They lie. Or, rather, they cope. Daphne (Ariana Shore) has become a control freak, intent upon being the mother that her own mother was not. Sammy (Lauren Connolly) has become a well-known lesbian artist who rebels by being outrageous. David (Jonathan White) is the responsible gay son who makes a point of thinking rather than feeling, while his older brother Taylor (Chris Teutsch) is a successful professional golfer who gave up on his mother and tried desperately to please his father, instead.

Into this mix comes Jamie (Danny Marr), Taylor's gay caddie. His presence shakes things up, especially for David, who was the mother's primary caregiver. David's journey in the play is the central one, and it is he who is changed most by the events that take place on this day of reckoning.

There is note in the program from Svoboda, who also directs the show, that while many of the events in the musical actually happened, his mother did not kill herself and she did, in fact, emerge from darkness into health and happiness. But whether the events happened or not does not make any of them real on stage.

Svoboda might also tell us that his mother, while in an institution, created puppets through which she and her children communicated. Nonetheless, the writing and staging of these four kids using their mother's puppets to tell their stories isn't just a poor man's Avenue Q, it's unconvincing, not to mention bordering on silly. That's not to say that Michiko K. Skinner's puppetry designs are not endearing, only that they are not employed with enough sagacity and charm.

Ultimately, this show has no more depth than a psychobabble slogan: "She did the best she could." Does that also mean this musical was the best that Svoboda and Williams could do? We hope not.