At first glance, “Motherhood Out Loud” appears to be in the tradition of “Menopause the Musical” and “The Vagina Monologues” — shows written by women for women in which hot-button issues alternate with broad comedy.
But this show, composed of vignettes by 14 playwrights, is something those shows aren’t: valid theater. The play is a bit formulaic at times, perhaps a little too calculatedly inclusive at others, but it packs a punch.
Each short monologue deals with some facet of motherhood, from childbirth to old age, and each passage is sharply focused and crisply written. No words are wasted, and by the time this 90-minute show reaches its conclusion, most viewers will have been on an emotional, psychological and spiritual journey.
The Spinning Tree Theatre production, directed by Andy Parkhurst, showcases strong performances by a gifted cast. These actors — Natalie Liccardello, Kelly Main, Julie Shaw and Rick Truman — are clearly committed to the material and deliver heartfelt performances that are often funny but just as frequently moving.
The show is divided into five chapters: “Fast Births,” “First Day,” “Sex Talk,” “Stepping Out” and “Coming Home.” Collectively, the script deals with virtually every aspect of motherhood.
We hear from mothers who have adopted, conflicted stepmothers and women dealing with one milestone after another as their children grow and mature. One passage, nicely performed by Truman, deals with a gay dad’s comical but poignant description of fathering his daughter through an egg donor and surrogate. Credit the actors for keeping each episode clear and distinct. Shifting gears as often as these performers must in the course of the show isn’t particularly easy, but Parkhurst and his cast never lose focus. Main is most affecting as a mother whose son has joined the Army; she imagines in detail two soldiers and a chaplain coming to her door to deliver the news she dreads as a way of preparing for the reality should it ever come. Shaw demonstrates the most versatility as she embodies characters who are young, middle-aged and old. Her standout performances include a sequence in which a woman has to accept the reality indicated by her pre-adolescent son’s preference for little girls’ dresses, and another late in the show in which a world-weary old woman looks back on her children in a decidedly unsentimental way. Liccardello, as usual, is poised and luminous, and her sense of comic timing is uncanny. She is at her best in a moving monologue in which a young woman describes the heartache she feels when she cannot find common ground with her boyfriend’s daughter. Scenic designers Laura Burkhart and Gary Mosby have devised a simple, modular set composed of what look like big building blocks. The design allows the actors to shift individual pieces around the stage as needed. Some of these blocks also contain costumes, making quick changes in view of the audience possible. Sean Glass’ lighting is evocative and helps the play’s frequently shifting moods.
“Motherhood Out Loud” runs through Sunday at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. For more information, call 816-545-6000 or go to SpinningTreeTheatre.com.