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2/4/2024        KNEAD                      Aurora Theatre


pgm Knead.jpg

Back in 2018, Mary Lynn Owen’s monologue, Knead, premiered at the Alliance Theatre, a performance I appreciated very much indeed.  It is now being reprised at Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre with very few “tweaks” (mostly involving snide asides regarding current anti-Gluten obsessions).  The play is just as compelling on second viewing, and, as such, deserves every word I wrote in 2018.  With a few “tweaks” of course.


It’s a simple recipe that never turns out the same:


One Sleepless Night

One Stream-of-Consciousness Inner Dialogue

One Life lived in a mottled array of light and dark, good and bad, high and low, public and private

One Audience hanging onto your every word

One Illegible (and incomplete) recipe from Mom


Now, imagine artifacts from that life attacking your consciousness like an avenging memory.  Also, fill the theatre with the aroma of baking bread in the hopes that breaking it with that (imaginary?) audience will incline them towards kindness.


Mary Lynn Owen is an Atlanta actress of extraordinary talent and range.  She has won Suzi’s for Wit and The Little Foxes and is nominated pretty much every year.  I have often hinted that she could make a listicle reading a compelling and memorable theatrical event.

Here she has combined several of her personal essays about herself and her family into a moving monologue entitled Knead (pun no doubt intended).  In it, she is playing a character with her name and face who is spending a sleepless night baking a loaf of bread from that wrinkled, stained, and incomplete recipe published by her mother in “The Methodist Cookbook.”  She has never been able to get it right.  I suspect she has very little faith in the efficacy of recipes:


“It’s not CLEAR.  It doesn’t spell anything out - it’s full of errors - and it doesn’t work!  It doesn’t tell you what you need to know - it doesn’t tell you what to do when things go wrong, it only tells you what to do when things go right - and it doesn’t even do that!”


While she goes through the process of baking the bread, her memory manifests things from her past – a tricycle, a lace mantilla, a flurry of business cards, a wreck of a knotting project, a collection plate with exactly $1.47, a panoply of pink possessions, an audience.  Each of these triggers a story, a memory, a pain not buried deeply enough or candy-coated thickly enough.  And each story is a breathtakingly honest and open revelation of this woman and that core of her that creates so much on-stage honesty and beauty.


And the amazing thing is, it’s not the stories of loss and betrayal (and there are many), but the stories of love and connection that seem more to inform Ms. Owen’s character (or at least her on-stage character).  Memories of her Abuela helping her cook for a 4H competition, of sharing a PBR with her dying father, of sneaking her sister-in-law out of Grady Hospital to visit her AIDS-stricken brother in a cross-town hospital, and, ever and always, of meals shared and created. From what I know of Ms. Owen, and I know far less than I would like, she is a woman filled with joy and kindness and generosity, without a trace of any anger or bitterness at some of the “hard turns” she shares with us.


I like how the recipe becomes a metaphor for a life – you may add all the correct ingredients – the memory artifacts if you will, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same result every time.  Because memory is strangely mutable – that a recollection of one incident can split off into a half-forgotten (perhaps inaccurately recalled) completely unrelated incident.  The least little thing can affect our memory, especially as children.  Experiments have shown how distressingly easy it is to “corrupt” good memories with half-truths that FEEL emotionally true, “gut instinct” does not care a whit for fact or accuracy!


How often have you recalled a childhood memory to your family only to be told “Well, that never happened?”  I suspect more than we realize.  At least that has been my experience. 


For this reprise, Director David de Vries has (more or less) stood back and let his actor/playwright command the stage.  Set designer Alexander Whittenberg has (allegedly) reconstructed Ms. Owen’s own home (complete with working oven), and Lighting Designer Hernando Claros has created a middle-of-the-night atmosphere that makes intriguing distinctions between “what’s there” and “what’s imagined.”  And Costume Designer Sydni Stephenson has generously allowed Ms. Owen work in her pajamas and bare feet.


This play was obviously written by someone quite comfortable with the structure of theatrical writing, but with a literary flair that is uniquely her own.  Mary Lynn Owen has long proven herself an extraordinary actor, and, with Knead, she has proven herself to be an extraordinary writer.  I can’t imagine the psychic scars she had to examine to create this piece, the memories she has to access to convincingly portray herself.  I just count myself lucky to have witnessed it (again), and fortunate to have cherished it (still).



Y Bienvenido.  


Lights down.  Music plays a fantastic salsa tune.


     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol. #AuroraKnead



One final digression.  The title of this play brings into my aging brain an Abbott and Costello routine on loafing in a bakery.  – you have to really knead dough to successfully loaf!  I would be heartless indeed if I failed to share it with you all.

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