3/22/2019 SECRETS OF A SOCCER MOM Stage Door Players
****½ ( A )
About halfway through Act II of Kathleen Clark’s marvelous Secrets of a Soccer Mom, one of the Moms asks with honest confusion “How can people we love so much make us feel so trapped?” This sense of the frustrating ambivalence of motherhood is the driving force behind the success of this piece, and raises it from a simple domestic comedy into a sublimely funny and moving work about the loves and frustrations that bind us into a net from which we probably don’t want to escape.
Taking place in (semi-sorta) “real time,” the play is a snapshot into the lives of three suburban Moms at a Mother-Son Soccer game. Nancy (Adena Brumer) is an ex-model, struggling to keep perspective in a life in which kids shouting “Mom” every few minutes prevent any coherent thought from taking root. Lynn (Brittani Minnieweather) is an über-volunteer, the woman who takes on the PTA, Den Mother, Field Trip parent roles that define and fulfill her life. Alison (Hannah Morris) is the competitive one, struggling through a marriage in which passion is a distant memory and fantasy is a hollow substitute. Throughout one afternoon, they bond, confess, kvetch, plot, reminisce, and let the behavior of their always-in-view (but unseen) children take priority over everything else. And, somehow, at the same time, they glimpse that ever-elusive perspective that helps them see their lives as less a trap and more an adventure.
And they really REALLY want to beat the snot out of their snotty kids in that soccer game.
As she showed in Southern Comforts, playwright Kathleen Clark is very adept at creating real characters that surprise and deepen in spite of the seemingly clichéd nature a cursory description (such as the one I give above) would indicate. Her dialog is realistic, often hysterically funny, moving without being cloying, carrying the rhythms of real conversation and real people. I could not imagine any of these lines in the mouths of any character other than the one talking. And, as she showed in Southern Comforts, she creates conflicts and situations that are seemingly small, but which the characters tend to elevate to crisis status. That they are so overblown is nevertheless no excuse for ignoring them, or for us underestimating their importance. We are left at the end with a sense of real resolution, in spite of the fact that nothing really changes. Perhaps
The play was produced ten years ago at the (old) Theatre in the Square in a crackerjack production that I truly loved. That production was highlighted by an impressionistic set, a net over the playing area trapping toys and sporting equipment and the other paraphernalia of childhood and motherhood, seemingly (symbolically) trapping the characters in a snare of their own choosing. Here director Suehyla el-Attar and Scenic Artist Chuck Welcome have chosen a more realistic approach, giving us a fenced-in "Bench Area" for the mothers to relax between games. It is a credit to this script that both approaches are equally effective. More pleasantly, the script has aged perfectly -- it captures aspects of motherhood that are as valid in 2019 as they were in 2009, and probably in every year that preceded. Ever.
A great part of the play's universality is the equal weight given to the joys of being a mother and wife, to the little moments that are the real “bait” in the parenthood trap. And, overriding all is a sense of affection for these characters, as well as an acknowledgement that motherhood can be very different for different women. There is a sequence during which Nancy discusses two such different women her life, both of whom died young. One was obsessed with parenthood and couldn’t understand mothers who were too busy to watch their children play. The other was obsessed with personhood, with making sure there was enough effort made to “not losing yourself” in the day-to-day minutiae that makes up raising kids. Nancy’s reminiscence of these two women strike at the heart of the conflict she faces, right at the heart of the seemingly paradoxical drives and pressures that mothers have always faced. Can there ever be enough “Mommy Time” when every minute is filled with “Look at me, Mommy Time?”
This ambivalence is, for me, the strength of this play. It acknowledges that motherhood, that parenthood has no simple solutions, no “Instruction Manual.” At the same time, it acknowledges that losing yourself in your kids can have unpleasant consequences.
And, this play gives us three actresses playing three women who make us laugh, who make us nod our heads in recognition, who take us through a roller-coaster ride of emotional over-excess and under-acceptance. Ms. El-Attar directs with a confident hand, keeping the pace brisk and brilliant, letting the actresses truly shine. They may seem a little too young (at first glance) -- more twenty-something than thirty-something -- but t hey eventually won me over with their tiny moments, the small gestures, the small expressions that truly make these characters come to life.
This is a play about being trapped in a net from which the only escape is an embrace of that net. And it’s a celebration of the joy of finding all the other parents in that same net with you. And Stage Door Players have staged it beautifully.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #SDPSoccerMom)