The many playwrights represented in this 90-minute show co-conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein -- including Beth Henley and Theresa Rebeck -- have cast a much wider net than one might imagine. And under Lisa Peterson's direction, the piece is beautifully varied and paced, with the seemingly random episodes packed with cross-referential resonance.
For example, one of the "mothers" is male -- a gay man who fulfills both traditional parental roles. As aced by James Lecesne, Marco Pennete's "If We're Using a Surrogate" is one of the more delightful segments in a program packed with wisdom, laughter, and plenty of wry surprises. Lecesne also has a touching turn in David Cale's "Elizabeth," as a divorcé who seeks temporary refuge at his mother's home, only to find their caretaking roles reversed.
In Lameece Issaq's "Nooha's List," a Muslim mother (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) comes up with just the right tale of adolescent mortification to bond with her furiously rebellious daughter (Mary Bacon). Lisa Loomer's amusing "New in the Motherhood," shows a hip young mother (Bacon again, acing the role) bridling at the prospect of a decade of purgatorial park-sitting, trapped in the company of a group of competitively perfectionist moms. "I love my kid," she laments, "but sometimes I wish we'd met under different circumstances."
Tony Award winner Randy Graff has some of the more plangent material to deliver, and while her bug-eyed pleas for empathy can overwhelm in so small a space, she does lend a quiet dignity to Michele Lowe's "Queen Esther," about a mother who bravely backs her young son's wish to dress up as Queen Esther for a Purim festival.
Ekulona is superb portraying the parent of a soldier overseas, who with escalating urgency, hones a dirge she hopes she'll never need. The actress is also terrific in a light opening number, Cheryl L. West's "Squeeze, Hold, Release." The phrase, as Ekulona's character observes, could indeed serve as a metaphor for the stages of motherhood. But it's also a surprisingly explicit game plan for sustaining a marriage.
If the piece has one major flaw, it's the "fugues" that connect the show's thematic segments. These frantic interludes (written by Lowe) are invariably too much: hysteria is the last mood you want to see summoned in this context. Motherhood Out Loud, has more than enough moments of pathos and strong emotion built in.