Chicago Theatre Review
Mother/Daughter Dynamic Hilariously Unpacked in Honest ‘Mother (And Me)’
Mother and Me – Greenhouse Theatre
Melinda Buckley’s mother was, to use a cliché, a force of nature. A Hungarian immigrant who married an American GI as World War II concluded, she was a chain smoker, a flirt, a lover of dance and beauty, and as stubborn in her independence as she was in support of her daughter.
Those qualities lovingly shine through in “Mother (and me),” Buckley’s one-woman show about her relationship with her mother. With a narrative that spans several decades from Buckley’s teen years through her mother’s dementia, Buckley details their often loving, often strained interactions with warmth, humor, and delightful splashes of crudeness, pivoting between comedy and tragedy without ever sacrificing her central humanity.
And though “Mother” is wonderfully produced – Cat Wilson’s lights and Daniel Carlyon’s sound complement the narration very well – this is ultimately Buckley’s show, with her engaging stage presence and dextrous writing front and center. There were two things that struck me, as “Mother” unfolded. First, there were the scenes Buckley chose for the play. Eschewing the rudimentary hysterics of mother/daughter narratives, Buckley instead focuses on the small gestures and moments, crafting a more complete perspective on how life was with her mother; of particular note are Buckley’s passages about helping her mother with her makeup, and when she accompanied her mother to a ballet performance in Boston and first realized the beauty of dance.
Second, there are the various styles Buckley utilizes to tell her tale. Backstory and synopsis are often awkward tropes in one-person shows; you can often see the lines, feel the strain of the playwright trying to jam facts and reminders into the text. Buckley sidesteps those issues by incorporating unorthodox techniques into her narrative. So while her mother’s journey from Hungary to America could have been relayed in basic narration, Buckley instead parodies a 1950s game show, adding a border of sad satire to her mother’s early life; also effective is Buckley’s description of her own midlife crisis, where she relays all of her life’s challenges via an announcer for a horse race (with each racing animal named after a challenge).
Finally, “Mother” also casts an unflinching eye on the challenges of caring for aging parents, an ever-common dynamic in our society that is sorely ignored on the stage. Longer life expectancies and greater independence among children have both led to a crisis of geriatric care, and adult children are often left with no easy answers on how to look after their aging, dependent parents. It is a reality we all will likely face, and Buckley is to be commended for telling her own struggles in such a brave, honest, and humorous fashion.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through August 14 by by the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to http://www.greenhousetheater.org/.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com