Theater Review: A one-woman play and a tale of two moms

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

Perseverance Theatre's advertisements for "The Mommy Dance" claim the play is for moms, people who know moms and people who have moms. But the promotion didn't have any sort of warning for one age group that could be critically affected by viewing Jill Bess' performance: 20-something young women who might someday become mothers.

I happen to fall into that category and, after watching Bess for two hours talk about the crying, the messes, the loss of independence and the worry that accompanies motherhood, I came close to changing my mind about this whole baby thing.

Bess' play is a two-act endeavor starring Bess playing herself, her son, Kevin, at ages 3 to 8, and her daughter, Katie. She even plays two roles at once by dancing with a life-size doll that presumably resembles her husband, Joel.

The energy and spirit behind this one-woman show are impressive. Bess interacts with the spectators, throwing rolls of toilet paper into the audience as she enacts one particularly lively endeavor by her son to TP the living room, dedicating a mommy temper tantrum to the mothers in the audience, and talking frankly about the ups and downs of motherhood.

And despite the plethora of "kids say the darndest things" cliches, despite the predictability of love and hate of motherhood cycling through the production, I laughed. Bess brings an entire household to life on her own - an impressive feat.

But the message of the play, and the simplicity with which it was delivered, disturbed me. Could motherhood really be that chaotic? If it is, why would anybody attempt it?

Judging from the laughter in the audience, the knowing glances exchanged between middle-age couples and the hugs shared by adult women after the curtain fell (metaphorically, of course - this is Perseverance), Bess was accurate in her interpretation of motherhood.

But I wasn't convinced, so I called an expert with whom I share a very personal connection: my mom.

After explaining the play to my mom, a woman in South Dakota who married my dad 31 years ago at the age of 21, I asked her if being a mom is really like Bess' portrayal of it.

"When I hear people like this woman I just, sometimes, I don't know ... I just think they've got to be exaggerating," my mom told me. "But I was lucky."

My mom and dad raised five little Schmids. Until the youngest was in kindergarten, my mother was a full-time mom. Then she was a full-time mom plus full-time teacher. When people marvel at the thought of raising five children, each of us two years apart, my mom doesn't quite understand them.

"I'm not saying that I was just supremely happy all the time," she said. "I would get frustrated and I would worry about you kids at different times. ... But when you were little and it was busy and it was hectic, that's what I wanted to be doing, that's what I wanted to be. I wasn't wishing I was somewhere else."

Bess' play is a cute production full of references to motherhood that I'm sure will be appreciated by many. But motherhood should be more than just a series of chaotic scenes followed by the mother flopping onto the couch and saying "this is crazy."

If you like lively plays with talented actors, see "The Mommy Dance" this weekend. But a word to young people planning on (maybe) being parents: not every motherhood is like this one.

• Christine Schmid is an Empire writer whose parents taught her to always tell the truth, but that if she doesn't have anything nice to say, she shouldn't say anything. They're curious why she ever agreed to write a theater review.

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