A single mother accuses her child’s babysitter of possibly inappropriate conduct in Francine Volpe’s quietly intriguing The Good Mother, being given its world premiere by The New Group at Theatre Row. However, her own actions hardly seem innocent, and blame for the alleged incident is not so easily assigned.
As the play begins, Larissa (Gretchen Mol) is getting ready for a date, while sullen teen Angus (Eric Nelsen) sits listening to her rattle on about a range of topics, including the care of her autistic daughter Allyson, whom Angus is watching over for the first time. The following day, Larissa tells Angus that the non-verbal Allyson “expressed to me that something happened.”
Volpe doles out expository information slowly and carefully, adding mystery and dimension to the characters’ interactions. For example, it becomes increasingly clear that it was a bad idea to hire Angus, the son of Larissa’s former therapist Joel (Mark Blum), who is himself embroiled in a scandal involving an underage patient.
Joel’s subsequent visit to Larissa leads to questions about the pair’s own past relationship, and potentially sinister motivations on her part in leveling a charge against Joel’s son. Scenes between Larissa and Jonathan (Darren Goldstein), her trucker one-night-stand, and Larissa and Buddy (Alfredo Narciso), her former boyfriend who is now a police officer, further complicate matters.
Mol delivers a layered performance that keeps the audience guessing as to what Larissa is really after. We get the feeling that she does love and care for her daughter, but that she is also angling for some kind of escape from her current circumstances.
Nelsen excellently captures Angus’ disaffected mannerisms in his initial scene, but is less convincing in his angry response to Larissa’s accusations. Blum projects a creepy, self-aggrandizing condescension in his portrayal of Joel that is appropriately off-putting, while both Goldstein and Narciso’s characters come across as nice guys who are going to end up damaged by their connections to Larissa.
Director Scott Elliott provides a measured pace that gives the entire production a noir-like feel, although a bit more variation could have increased the level of tension at key junctures. The actors have also often been directed to speak rather softly, so that audience members must strain to hear them — and may end up missing some crucial information.