Talk about knowing your audience: For its run at the Snapple Theater Center, Kathleen Clark’s “Secrets of a Soccer Mom” will play at parent-friendly times like 6 p.m. on Saturday, and there are plenty of matinees for when the kids are in school. Women — and perhaps men — who take advantage of the scheduling will find a comedy that’s equally sympathetic. It isn’t great art, but the play at least offers 80 minutes of pleasant downtime.
Clark (“Southern Comforts”) creates a compelling scenario: Three moms attend a Saturday soccer game that pits parents against their children. As they cool off between rounds, they debate if they should let the kids win or teach them a lesson about competition.
But the match is really a metaphor for a mother’s struggle to be herself while raising a family. If she satisfies her own needs, she may damage her kids. If she lets her children dominate, her personality may be erased.
Then there’s this disturbing thought: What if she tries to win the match, but her kids beat her anyway?
Those questions are fascinating, though Clark oversimplifies the answers. Characters speak like self-help books, offering unnaturally articulate explanations of their crises.
For example, when the women worry they’ve lost touch with their younger selves, pushy gossip Nancy (Nancy Ringham) delivers a two-page monologue about gaining “perspective” during a beach vacation. She concludes by saying, “I had lost my perspective on life, and by losing that, I lost my spirit.” We’re clearly supposed to jot that down in our positivity journals.
Every plot twist invokes a similar bromide, guaranteed to comfort auds with what they already know. The jokes are the same, rehashing Erma Bombeck staples about husbands who don’t listen and children who don’t behave.
Of the cast, only Deborah Sonnenberg makes the material feel organic. Her comic timing turns Lynn, a dowdy PTA volunteer, into a classic innocent, constantly surprised and delighted by her own thoughts. The slow awakening of her competitive spirit is the show’s most satisfying arc.
Otherwise, perfs are merely adequate. Thesps seem to think about their blocking instead of investing their scenes with spontaneity.
Director Judith Ivey is partly responsible for the awkwardness since she fights the script’s over-the-top humor. Even when the characters are screaming at their children across a field or ogling a cute soccer coach, Ivey keeps her actors subdued. Thesps politely wait to speak until the previous line is finished, sucking energy off the stage.
And yet despite corny homilies and spotty acting, the show draws constant laughs. Maybe that’s because in spite of its limitations, the play celebrates mothers as human beings. These women are full of flaws, but they’re never punished for them. They want things for themselves, and they’re allowed to have them. They complain about their families, but they love them all the same.
Maybe artists don’t create enough happy, imperfect mothers, so patrons will embrace them whenever they can.