Only the most tender-hearted mom would overlook the theatrical shortcomings of “Motherhood Out Loud,” a maternal valentine of a play (a Mother’s Day card would be more apt) world-premiering at Hartford Stage. The 90-minute collection of 15 slight and sentimental pieces by 14 authors — including high-profilers Theresa Rebeck, Beth Henley, Lisa Loomer and David Cale — treads overly familiar mama-drama territory with little theatrical payoff.
Some of the vignettes offer a flash of freshness, and the quartet of actors under Lisa Peterson’s direction, elevate much of the material.
Randy Graff scores high comic points in the Lameece Issaq piece as an American Muslim mother dealing with her daughter’s first menstrual cycle. Thesp also is moving in Michele Lowe’s work as a mother grappling with the gender issues of a seven-year-old son who wants to dress as Queen Esther during Purim pageant.
Amy Irving brings out the emotional complications a loving stepmother faces in a piece by Luanne Rice. April Yvette Thompson is touching in Loomer’s short monologue as a mother in the U.S. talking to her left-behind child in El Salvador, even if the piece is one-note.
Two scenes featuring the show’s lone male performer are effective. James Lecesne brightens Marco Pennette’s contribution about a gay man using a surrogate mother. In Cale’s piece, the actor is splendid as an adult son who moves home only to find his mother’s mind slipping away. In both cases the pieces have time to play themselves out; Lecesne takes on multiple characters, enriching each story and deepening the drama.
But few of the playlets achieve this type of theatrical dynamic. Most of the entries — and their transitional tweets — breeze in and settle on a simple theme, stay for a few pages and end on a fade-out button. A soldier’s mom talks about the constant worry of her child in peril; another mother is saddened by the silence of her empty nest when her boisterous child goes to college; another has problems letting go of her soon-to-marry son; a frazzled mom tries to maintain a professional life by working from her chaotic home.
Having the actors speaking from portable podiums or holding scripts as they move about is also misguided, bringing to mind the question of why the actors couldn’t manage the short scenes on their own. This apparently was part of the concept, which only diminishes the production. The pieces are more like testimonies, and the staging gives the enterprise a not-ready-for-big-time feel. It’s more suitable for a rotating-thesp “Vagina Monologues”-type setup than a fully realized theatrical presentation.
The production is enlivened by Emily Hubley’s whimsical animations. Rachel Hauck’s abstract set, Jan Hartley’s projections, Pater Kaczorowski’s lighting and Jill BC Duboff’s music also lend nice atmospheric touches.