Saturday, May 23, 2009

Local Theatre Troupe Returns to Old Haunt

Over two years ago, in what I'm sure was a politically motivated action, The Alliance for the Arts in Ft. Myers failed to renew the lease that locally renowned Theatre Conspiracy had held for about as long as I've lived here. It was a crushing blow to Bill Taylor and his crew who had held the new play contests and showcased local talent in this venue for years. Desperate not to have to disband, the troupe found a funky new home in Ft. Myers in a warehouse behind the yummy Sasse's Restaurant.
My buds and I followed Theatre Conspiracy to the new location - great excuse to eat out - but the new location, which would have been a smash hit in any major city in the country, didn't really work for the locals who don't like to drive any further than around the corner. There were other issues, not the least of which was the rousing hallelujah chorus from the evangelical church next door - rather disconcerting to the actors trying to run their lines, I would guess.

Anyway, a new director at the Alliance has apparently seen the light and Theatre Conspiracy made their debut return with Mom's the Word, an ensemble production starring all of my favorite local actors, especially our very talented co-worker, Annie Wagner, winner of not one, but two, new playwriting awards. The library was well represented Friday night and the players did not disappoint - though one stuffy old geezer who didn't seem to appreciate Lauren Drexler's apt recreation of birth pangs, left at intermission.

I loved this play for its honesty. Who knew motherhood would be such a controversial political football? But... there it is. It's a new age from the '60's when I grew up. I never thought I'd see a pro-choice president boycotted for giving a graduation speech at a Catholic college that, while professing respect for life, offered an honorary degree just four years ago to a different president who rejoices in the death penalty.
In one particular scene Drexler is reading a seemingly innocent story to the group, a story that takes a suddenly serious turn when the audience realizes that we are hearing about a woman who is alone and pregnant, doing all she humanly can, including jumping off the barn roof, to lose this baby. When she doesn't, and gives birth, of course she loves her child. No, women don't take a decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly.

Annie has a recurring, heartbreaking scene in which she and her husband haunt the neo-natal care unit for months waiting for her preemie to be healthy enough to go home and Joann Haley, another very talented local, plays the career mom who fights resentment and fears of mush brain, even as she devotes her life to her kids.
The brave authors of this play address another truism that many of us hesitate to admit. A man may break your heart but if you're going to be sucker punched, you can bet it'll be another woman who delivers the blow. Why don't we support eachother? Isn't that what we fought so hard for? Choices? Why do we make judgements about another woman's way of doing what she thinks is right for her family and herself without undermining her confidence every step of the way?

These and other aspects of the play reminded me of the broohaha that author Ayelet Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits ) stirred up when, a couple of years ago, she wrote an essay for the NY Times confessing that she loved her husband ( Michael Chabon) more than she loved her kids. Hate mail arrived from all over the globe and I don't doubt that her experience with that shocking response led to her new book that came out this month called Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace,
which, now that I think about it, would have been a fabulous title for this play!

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