Review: ‘Pot Mom’

Every writer strives to find an original voice; Justin Tanner has succeeded. "Pot Mom," playing at the Cast Theatre as part of an eight-play festival of his works, is genuinely fresh and imaginative -- not to mention hilarious.

Every writer strives to find an original voice; Justin Tanner has succeeded. “Pot Mom,” playing at the Cast Theatre as part of an eight-play festival of his works, is genuinely fresh and imaginative — not to mention hilarious.

In this 1994 comedy, Tanner manages to write about working-class people without resorting to stereotype, and to write about drug use without resorting to preachiness or Cheech-and-Chong-like inanity.

And most impressively, he writes about hopelessness while keeping his audience laughing. His subject is not the existential, life-is-meaningless hopelessness of French philosophers, but the everyday my-job-sucks or I-can’t-find-work hopelessness of millions of Americans.

The title character, Patty (Ellen Ratner), lives in a house on the outskirts of Salinas with her three bratty teenagers and her boyfriend Richard (Jon Palmer), a truck driver who grows and sells marijuana as a sideline. He smokes it too. As does she. As do the kids — pretty much constantly.

When the audience first sees Richard, he is in a foul mood, and for good reason: The kids, who want him out, are making his life miserable. The plot, such as it is, concerns his battle with them for mom’s affection.

Mom, who spends most of her days sitting on the sofa, getting stoned and watching “I Love Lucy” reruns, is vaguely aware of what is going on, but too passive to do anything about it.

This is a workable set-up for angst-filled drama, but Tanner opts for farce. No doors actually slam, but people are constantly running in and out of the living room where the action takes place, screaming on-target and witty insults at one another.

The play’s fast pace and hilariously vulgar exchanges keep our minds off the fact that all of these people are leading hopeless, desperate lives.

The superb ensemble cast pulls off this potentially off-putting material with deft comic timing. The best performance is given by Elizabeth Ruscio, who makes Patty’s love-starved friend Michelle hilariously pathetic.

Andy Daley’s living-room set and Denise Wingate’s costumes are appropriately tacky.

Pot Mom

Production

HOLLYWOOD Diana Gibson and Andy Daley for Ted Schmitt's Cast Theatre present a play written and directed by Justin Tanner.

Crew

Sets, Daley; costumes, Denise Wingate; lighting, Peter Strauss; sound, Todd Hughes. Opened in April 1994, at the Cast Theatre (runs indefinitely). Reviewed Dec. 10; 99 seats; $ 15 top. Running time: 2 HOURS.

With

Patty ... Ellen Ratner Michelle ... Elizabeth Ruscio Troy ... Justin Tanner Richard ... Jon Palmer Lisa ... Laurel Green Lorraine ... Dana Schwarz Gene ... Brendan Broms Carla ... Elizabeth Cava Danielle ... Lisa Beezley
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