An anthology of sketch plays, unified by a female-friendly theme and put together mostly by women? “Motherhood Out Loud,” a show conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and written by a dozen women and a couple of guys, sounds made-to-order for the “Love, Loss and What I Wore” audience. But despite prior showings at Hartford Stage and the Geffen Playhouse, the material has yet to jell. Writing is uneven, format needs an overhaul, and the whole show should check into a spa for a style makeover.The collective message of these 20 vignettes — written by the impressive likes of Beth Henley, Theresa Rebeck and novelist Luanne Rice — would have it known that motherhood is exhausting, terrifying, but ultimately joyous work. Taken individually, however, the show’s bits and pieces give off mixed, even counterintuitive signals. Rachel Hauck’s abstract set puts a cheery face on motherhood, but then the pointless graphics and dull video projections make it look downright dreary. More unkindly, the drab costumes imply that, once women become mothers, they forget how to dress themselves. The chronological timeline also does the material a disservice by suggesting that all the tender, funny, and endearing aspects of being a mother are confined to the early years. “New in the Motherhood,” a clever sketch by Lisa Loomer, finds thesp Mary Bacon in wry humor as a laid-back mom trying to get the hang of playground protocol (“Can’t we just let ‘em duke it out?”) and secretly proud of her naughty little boy (“Put the little girl down, Harry”). In Michele Lowe’s low-keyed monologue, “Queen Esther,” Randy Graff (“City of Angels”) makes sensitive work of an understanding mother whose 7-year-old son wants to wear barrettes in his hair and dress up as Queen Esther for Purim. Some sketches take on predictable subjects, like birth pains and sleep deprivation, in predictable ways. Others show some originality in dealing with thorny issues like adoption, gay parenting, and, in a quietly moving monologue by Rice, the challenge of being a stepmother. But once past infancy and early childhood, it’s all loss, emptiness and sorrow. The kids grow up, go off to college, get married, go to war, and, at the bitter end, watch their mothers grow old and helpless. Some playwrights’ voices are more captivating than others. But by the end of the evening, they all sound pretty depressing.
59E59 Theater; 196 seats; $66 top
A Primary Stages presentation of a play in one act conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein, written by Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West. Directed by Lisa Peterson.
Sets, Rachel Hauck; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Christopher Kuhl; sound, Jill BC DuBoff; projections, Jan Hartley; animation, Emily Hubley; production stage manager, Donald Fried. Opened Oct. 4, 2011. Reviewed Oct. 2. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.
With: Mary Bacon, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Randy Graff, James Lecesne.