An unashamedly old-fashioned, middle-class family comedy, complete with populist laughs and simplistic resolutions, "Mother's Day," from Gotham-based "Visiting Mr. Green" author Jeff Baron, receives the ultimate out-of-town tryout in Sydney. But one suspects his sophomore effort, which he directs passably, will suffer from comparisons with his first outing, an Off Broadway hit that has gone on to a long life elsewhere.

An unashamedly old-fashioned, middle-class family comedy, complete with populist laughs and simplistic resolutions, “Mother’s Day,” from Gotham-based “Visiting Mr. Green” author Jeff Baron, receives the ultimate out-of-town tryout in Sydney. But one suspects his sophomore effort, which he directs passably, will suffer from comparisons with his first outing, an Off Broadway hit that has gone on to a long life elsewhere.

Play has Estelle (Dinah Shearing) hosting a Mother’s Day lunch for her beloved son Jonathan (Sam Wilcox), his sassy wife Carmen (played with gusto by Khristina Totoa) and her lesbian professional golfer daughter Leslie (Penny Cook). Mother shares her home with her simplistic and kind sister Marilyn (Betty Lucas).

Cook has particular star wattage as Leslie, who invites a surprise guest to lunch — her new lover Wendy (Jo-Anne Cahill), whose presence proves a catalyst for exposing the family’s barely papered-over fractures. Play then charts a familiar course of deriving laughs and revelations from each character’s conflicts with the others. Three generations of parental and sibling resentments play themselves out over two days in Estelle’s drawing room and, after catastrophe strikes, in the hospital.

Later, piece also explores the interesting theme of how family members that have been close owing to adversity in their youth navigate the often problematic transition of relating to each other as adults.

Paired perfectly with longtime collaborator Lucas, Shearing gives an effective perf as the aging, pedantic and controlling matriarch, who manipulates her children into power struggles to please her. Eventually we learn she sacrificed her youth for her sister — and has been extracting payback in one form or another ever since.

Baron deserves praise for ensuring that none of the characters is superfluous to the action, while stark, brightly lit sets highlight the highly strung atmosphere amid the seemingly comfortable surroundings. With a little refining, piece should find a commercial niche.

Mother's Day

(SBW INDEPENDENT THEATER; 400 SEATS; A$ 42 ($ 26) TOP)

Production

SYDNEY An Ensemble Theater presentation, by special arrangement with Jeff Baron and Harden-Curtis Associates, of a play in two acts by Jeff Baron. Directed by Baron. Set and costumes, Judith Hoddinott.

Crew

Lighting, Martin Kinnane; sound, John Grimshaw. Opened, reviewed March 7, 2000. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

With

Wendy ..... Jo-Anne Cahill Leslie..... Penny Cook Marilyn..... Betty Lucas Estelle ..... Dinah Shearing Carmen ..... Khristina Totoa Jonathan ..... Sam Wilcox
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