Stage Left: Mothers have their day again

Third instalment of Mom’s the Word comedy mixes laughter with affecting interludes

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In the Canadian theatre world, the original play Mom’s the Word was a barn-burning success. Debuting in 1995, the comedy about mom-hood — translated into 14 languages — was staged more than 10,000 times in 19 countries. It’s a remarkable achievement, the theatrical equivalent of a blockbuster Michael Jackson album.

The five Vancouver women who collaboratively created the original show clearly hit a nerve begging to be touched. Fans adored the way five mothers related their experiences as parents in an irreverent, raucous, raunchy manner. It was like watching a gaggle of friends trade war stories over a two-litre bottle of white wine while their husbands took their kids (those lovable brats!) to the park.

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Naturally, there was a sequel. And now the third 2017 instalment, Mom’s the Word 3: Nest 1/2 Empty, has opened at Belfry Theatre. It stars the original fab five: Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams.

If you’re a devotee, you won’t be disappointed. The audience at Thursday’s opening-night show — mostly women —- clearly adored it, rewarding the cast with laughs, cheers and a standing ovation.

Some, as I did, might find the humour a touch predictable and familiar, more Carol Burnett than Amy Schumer, perhaps. Nonetheless, the show is well-crafted, smart and energetic. And there are a few wonderful left-field moments. My favourite quip came from one of the funniest cast members, Deborah Williams. She responded to an Old Yeller-ish tale of an ailing family dog by deadpanning: “Just kill it.”

At this stage of life, these menopausal maidens cope with empty-nest syndrome and other baggage that comes with middle age: marriage stasis, divorce, hot flashes and adult offspring who still act like spoiled teens. Each performer lobs anecdotes inspired by real life, switching nimbly from one speaker to another.

Briskly directed by Wayne Harrison, Mom’s the Word 3: Nest 1/2 Empty is a bit like a tag-team stand-up comedy evening. There is an admirably unflinching — even gritty — honesty about the show. For instance, when the adult kids leave the nest, the moms’ reactions include “unabashed glee” and “dread that they might come back.” They’re irritated when their offspring return home to temporarily bunk with their lunk-headed boyfriends and bossy girlfriends. They’re occasionally fed up with their aging parents who, due to physical and mental decline, can seem like children themselves. They sometimes think their husbands are jerks — one jokes she’d like to “Airbnb” his side of the bed.

Despite the show’s honesty and irreverence (one mom even bravely dashes across the stage in the nude), some will find such comedy to be overly safe, opinion-affirming fodder for middle-class theatregoers. An argument can be made for that. One tale about a mom who lusts over the handsome Italian stallion teaching her aqua-fit class is a real groaner. There are stale tropes about who’s doing the dishes and leaving drink-rings on teak tables. A quip about “dry vaginas,” clearly intended to be naughty, seems self-consciously outrageous, in the manner of middle-aged women who declare they will defiantly wear purple or attend Raging Grannies protests.

That said, Mom’s the Word 3: Nest 1/2 Empty and the previous Mom shows delve into topics not often — or at least rarely — addressed in theatre. The day-to-day trials and tribulations of parenthood may seem mundane. Yet this is the very fabric of our lives. As such it is important; it is worth investigating. As the creators intend, there is something cathartic and life affirming about seeing it portrayed — and lampooned — on stage.

The most dramatic scenes in the show — and the ones that dig deepest — come from Jill Daum. She tells about what it is to be a caregiver to her husband, John Mann, the Spirit of the West singer diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease despite being in his early 50s. In strictly theatrical terms, these sequences fit in uneasily with the show’s mostly breezy tone. Yet these dark interludes are the most affecting and the most memorable.

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