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Utah theater company staging stories from frontline of motherhood

Published May 2, 2014 9:36 am

Stage • Pygmalion Productions turns its female-centric focus to the topic of contemporary mothering in "Motherhood Out Loud."
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On the afternoon of Sunday, May 11, Elizabeth Golden, a Spanish Fork mother of three, knows exactly where she'll be: onstage portraying a variety of mother characters in "Motherhood Out Loud."

"It's kind of ironic," she says, fitting in one more thing on a work break, while her house-husband is watching the kids. "On Mother's Day, I'll be there doing this play, and my husband will be wiping runny noses and making peanut butter sandwiches."

When Golden, 34, considered auditioning for the Pygmalion Productions show, she assumed the script would be, well, "cute." But instead she found the collection of monologues, fugues and scenes to be poignant and touching, both personally and universally. "Motherhod Out Loud," a collection of stories by 14 contemporary playwrights, will be performed May 1-17 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.

"Every character I'm playing, I see myself or my mother or my grandmother or my sisters," says Golden, a recent theater graduate of Utah Valley University. "It's not just about being a mother, it's about loving children and giving up parts of yourself so that those children can succeed."

Of course, there are no end of mothers depicted in the theatrical canon, but many of those characters are tragic (consider Euripides' Medea) or in need of rehab (consider the drug-addled Violet in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning: "August: Osage County.")

Rather than a narrative, "Motherhood Out Loud," organized in five chapters, serves as more of a contemporary theatrical photo album. The collage opens with labor stories, progresses to focus on mothering kids and teens, considers kids leaving the nest for dates or to go to war, before returning full circle to the question of aging parents.

What's distinctive about the script is how directly the characters talk to the audience, says actor Barb Gandy. Stories are told by new moms, adoptive moms, moms of autistic and soldier sons, and kids of aging moms. There are also the voices of a great-grandmother who didn't like mothering and a gay father dealing with a surrogate.

"Often you see a very muted perspective of motherhood that's warm and fuzzy," says director Shellie Waters. "This goes to a different level in terms of meaty moments."

The play doesn't launch any new grenades in the Mommy Wars, but rather seems to aim for universality through inclusiveness. The show's earnest moments and collage approach won't land with every potential audience member, of course. For example, Charles Isherwood, in The New York Times at the show's premiere in October 2011, opined that some scenes seemed "overly familiar and formulaic," and as a nonparent, by the end of the show he was longing for a play date that didn't include sippy cups or diapers.

That review hasn't stopped the script from becoming a popular regional title, with dozens of professional and nonprofessional productions scheduled around the country this season, says a representative of the Dramatists Play Service Inc.

"The ideas may not be new, but it kind of levels the playing field in terms of what we all deal with when it comes to motherhood," Waters says. "There's a need to appreciate what motherhood is, and the hard work that goes into it, and to just value the role."

The cast of the Pygmalion Productions show underscores "Motherhood Out Loud's" Mommy Wars neutrality in a mother-and-kid-rich state like Utah. Waters, the director, says she cares for dogs, but never had children. Actor Betsy West is a stepmother, while among the cast and crew there's a mother with children from two fathers, a mother with children with disabilities, and two cast members who haven't had children. "Our age range, our life range and our energetic range gives it all a diversity that is quite interesting," West says.

West speaks in the voices of nine women in the 90-minute performance, but it's a monologue about an almost-stepmother that makes her emotional every time she rehearses it. "It strikes such a chord in me," she says. "I love going on the roller coaster with myself on that one."

Goldin says she appreciates the acting challenge of holding an audience's attention through monologues instead of playing verbal volleyball with another actor onstage. Her colleagues say her ending monologue, Annie Weisman's "My Baby," is especially moving.

"I'm telling the baby the story of her birth," Goldin says. "The challenge is maintaining honesty, and the organic nature of this storytelling, in a way that can be received by a roomful of people."


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'Motherhood Out Loud'

Pygmalion Productions offers a contemporary look at real-life motherhood in a collage of stories by noted playwrights including Beth Henley ("Crimes of the Heart," "The Miss Firecracker Contest"), Lisa Loomer ("Living Out" and "The Waiting Room") and Theresa Rebeck ("Seminar," "Bad Dates" and TV's "Smash").

Cast • Barb Gandy, Betsy West, Michael Canham, Elizabeth Golden and Tamara Johnson Howell, directed by Shellie Waters.

When • Opens May 1 and continues Thursday-Sunday through May 17; shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday. Additional matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 17.

Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Black Box theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets • $20 ($15 student discounts); at 801-355-2787; or pygmalionproductions.org.

Note • Audience members who attend the May 11 Mother's Day performance will receive a special treat.

Caution • Mature audiences; some adult language and themes. Mothers, reading

The King's English Bookshop will host four Utah writers — Catherine Arveseth, Aubry Degn, Margaret Anderson and Taunie Reynolds — reading from the anthology "Motherhood Realized," collected from the Power of Moms website.

When • May 7, 7 p.m.

Where • 15th Street Gallery, 1519 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Tickets • Free