Bekah Cobb & Jimmy Stump in Things My Mother Taught Me. Photo:Adam Hendricks
Things My Mother Taught Me
By Katherine Disavino
Directed by Alyssa Hendricks
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Things My Mother Taught Me is a traditional community theatre play, a classic American situation comedy of the type that could be found on the Little Colonel stage in any one of their six decades of existence, but it is also a fresh, completely contemporary take on the tried and true structure.
Olivia (Bekah Cobb) and Gabe (Jimmy Stump) are moving into their new apartment on the South Side of Chicago, having just driven a rental van full of everything they own from New York. For a good portion of the first act, they have a chair wedged in the door so they cannot bring any other furniture into the apartment. The building superintendent, Max, (Madelyn Hagan) warns the couple that they shouldn’t trust the van and their belongings on the street in this neighborhood.
Suddenly, Gabe’s parents (Martha Frazier & Sam Garas) show up unexpectedly, as do Olivia’s folks (Audra Lopez & Larry Dennison), both having driven from the East coast to see that the young couple is appropriately installed in their new life.
Playwright Katherine Disavino gives some air to the well-worn trope that the parents are interfering burdens but that’s not really what she has on her mind. While her play is not groundbreaking, she overcomes the cliches by giving the parents more value as people than the typical stereotype; people who offer support, wisdom, and understanding in good measure and who get along as in-laws. It may rob the story of some conflict. Still, she makes up for it in random, if predictable, comic circumstances and with a good ear for dialogue built for farce that never sacrifices their humanity.
Bekah Cobb gives a skilled and committed comic performance as Olivia, who is more anxious than her overconfident husband, and Jimmy Stump does almost as well as Gabe, nicely calibrating the shift from optimism to full panic eventually caused by the day’s events.
Next to the young couple, Martha Frazier and Sam Garas get the most stage time with Frazier riding the line between too much and just right like the veteran that she is, while Garas is a bit too big in his actions for the small Little Colonel space, even if he hits all the right character notes. Audra Lopez finds the taciturn quality in Olivia’s mother before some day drinking with her daughter brings out a much-needed honest exchange between the two. Larry Dennison seems a little awkward in his early scenes but finds his footing and a wry comic persona in act two when the two fathers set Gabe straight.
Things My Mother Taught Me isn’t a play that will change the world, but it plays against the now commonplace narrative that we were all messed up by our parents, and it does so without seeming old-fashioned or out-of-step with the times. After the rebellion and upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, a new generation – Baby Boomers? Gen-Xers? The nomenclature keeps shifting – have parented responsibly and with a balance of nurturing and freedom. Perhaps you will recognize yourself among this extended family.
Things My Mother Taught Me
February 3, 4, 10, & 11 @ 7:30 pm
February 5, & 12 @ 2:00 pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mt Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, KY 40056
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.