Fifteen years after her well-received local hit "Motherload," Denver playwright Coleen Hubbard reintroduces us to sisters Marta and Elan in her contemporary take on American motherhood, "The Raft." The two strikingly different women are still married to the same men, but the kids have grown up, and the job market and the empty nest have them jumpy.

Fifteen years after her well-received local hit “Motherload,” Denver playwright Coleen Hubbard reintroduces us to sisters Marta and Elan in her contemporary take on American motherhood, “The Raft.” The two strikingly different women are still married to the same men, but the kids have grown up, and the job market and the empty nest have them jumpy.

Mixing designer Tina Anderson’s utilitarian post-modern set pieces with Hubbard’s well-employed Greek chorus of “Gazes” — who speak not in the classical voice of public commentary but in the personal voice of the subconscious mind — director Jim Hunt creates a playful environment in which exterior and interior journeys are seamlessly intertwined.

In the eye of this midlife cyclone lies Marta’s bed and safe haven, “the raft,” where we find her medicating on red wine and chocolates, keeping the Gazes and her husband, Peter, at bay. Only Elan is able to rouse her, as a sister would, with a recitation of travails. In Hubbard’s witty dialogue, the sisters’ kvetching crackles in contrast to the Gazes’ zingers, integrating the play’s exterior and interior conversations in natural narrative patterns.

Reprising their roles as Marta and Elan, respectively, Gracie Carr’s droll insouciance and Martha Harmon Pardee’s domineering airs serve as fertile starting points for dramatic arcs that take them in antithetical directions on their quests for the rewards of both motherhood and a career.

Omnipresent in Marta’s mind and onstage, each of the three Gazes gracefully slip back and forth from nagging second-thoughts to full-blown relationships: Seductive and serpentine, David Russell is the snotty interior designer as well as the alluring environmental activist; Julia Elstun Payne (also a reprise from the prequel) coolly segues from prim to promiscuous as the patronizing career counselor and the bimbo waitress; newcomer Erik Holum is a revelation as Barney, Marta and Peter’s oldest son; and John Gaydeski paints an earnest and caring Peter.

Despite her husband’s and her son’s positive feedback on her tireless efforts, Marta remains conflicted about the value of her contributions: She recognizes Peter as a steady breadwinner, but criticizes him as the absent, work-oriented father; she feels devalued in the marketplace, yet she fails to see it is Peter’s dedication to his career that provides the framework for their family as surely as her multitasking skills provide the foundation. Hasn’t Marta gotten back a hundredfold what she gave?

These gaps — between Marta’s choice of motherhood and her expectations of entitlement in the marketplace; between wanting the high-paying, meaningful job without spending the requisite years cultivating the expertise; between wanting Peter at home more of the time, yet needing his salary to send two kids through college; indeed, between her spiritual values (nurturing, volunteering, etc.) and her material desires (more income) — are the only aspects of this snappy and consistently funny script that don’t draw laughs. They lead ultimately to an awkward ending after zipping us along on an uproarious and insightful ride for 95% of the evening. Why does Marta abandon the ironic perspective of her raft?

After only one staged reading and in the midst of its first production, the script is in remarkable shape and provides plenty of opportunities for Hubbard to find the fittingly humorous last scene to the second installment of her smart cycle on midlife womanhood in early 21st-century America.

The Raft

Modern Muse Theater Company, The Bug Theater, Denver; 175 Seats; $20 Top

Production

A Modern Muse Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Coleen Hubbard. Directed by Jim Hunt.

Creative

Set, Tina Anderson; costumes, Brian Mallgrave; lighting, Robert Byers; sound, Brian Freeland; production stage manager, Lorrin C. Dyer. Opened, reviewed Jan. 27, 2006. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Marta - Gracie Carr Peter - John Gaydeski Elan - Martha Harmon Pardee Gaze 1, Barney - Erik Holum Gaze 2, Candice - Julia Elstun Payne Gaze 3, Hal - David Russell
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