Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE GOOD MOTHER (The New Group)

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by Cindy Pierre on November 18, 2012

in Theater-New York


In theory and concept, Francine Volpe’s The Good Mother has all the fixins’ for a juicy, if not compelling drama: diverse, colorful characters, goofy one-night stands, 12-step amends, off-stage crying, and pasts that can’t seem to be outrun.  Despite all of this and more, the lazy, anti-climactic, and belabored way in which the plot develops and is staged, though apropos for the malaise that all the characters seem to be suffering from, makes The Good Mother a dull, claustrophobic time that overstays its welcome.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of The New Group’s THE GOOD MOTHER at the Acorn Theatre

From the opening sequences to curtain, The Good Mother meanders down one, oft-trodden road, and fails to entertain and surprise no matter how much dirt gets kicked on the path.  The play centers on Larissa (Gretchen Mol), an emotionally-stunted waif who finds it difficult to balance mommyhood to an autistic 4-year old with her desire to just get touched every now and then.  During a moment when the see-saw teeters in favor of getting laid, Larissa hires Angus (Eric Nelsen), a troubled goth, to babysit the daughter whom the audience often hears, but never sees.  Therein lies the first mistake of many as the once-unsettled-teen-turned-unsettled-adult envelopes several people—some blameless, some culpable—into her web of confusion, but not quite deceit.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of The New Group’s THE GOOD MOTHER at the Acorn Theatre

It’s hard to define Larissa.  Is she a coquette or is she a hapless victim?  Does she mean to ensnare everyone around her in a sticky mess, or is she too flailing in the murky sludge that seems to surround her every move? As Larissa, Mol walks the line between flaky and earnest, and almost elicits sympathy until she snatches it back with what sounds like a calculating comment or look.  From the moment she tells the police that her daughter relayed (the daughter can’t talk) that an “incident” took place the night she was left alone with Angus, we can’t quite make up our minds if she’s telling the truth or not.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of The New Group’s THE GOOD MOTHER at the Acorn Theatre

It’s not that Larissa looks and sounds like she’s lying.  It’s that Larissa appears to be disengaged with reality, brought on by what the audience can only imagine was a traumatic event in her youth.  And that event seems to predate the existence of all the other characters in her life who come to visit her in her home, a sanctuary just as much as it is a prison.  There’s Joel (Mark Blum), Angus’ father and former counselor to a teenage Larissa, who shows up to her doorstep to plead for his son’s future.  There’s Jonathan, the charming, lovable trucker played by Darren Goldstein who gets picked up and then summarily tossed away by Larissa, to his chagrin.  And then there’s Buddy (Alfredo Narcisco), her broken-hearted ex-turned cop who still laments their breakup even though he’s now married. Though these men all orbit Larissa and she attracts the fragmented just as she is fragmented, we come to realize as the show goes on that they mystify her just as much as she mystifies them.  And because no one character seems to be able to latch on to anyone or anything real, we find it difficult to care for them.

Cindy Pierre’s Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of The New Group’s THE GOOD MOTHER at the Acorn Theatre

Other elements, though intertwined with the wispy theme, are also perplexing.  Under Scott Elliott’s direction, Nelsen’s back faces the audience during several critical moments when his facial expressions might have been a revelation.  In one of those same moments, he also struggles with Larissa at the door to vacate her home, but it’s a struggle that seems forced because of Mol’s lithe frame.  Although Jason Lyons’ lighting cues mimic a sleeping eye getting used to light, they also inspire the audience to want to doze off.

While Volpe’s script is complex with some occasional poignant dialogue, the pacing of the show kills any enthusiasm that one could have for the writing.  The Good Mother suffers from being staged too literally to the theme.  As a patron, we should come away with the intellectual understanding that these characters are stuck in yesteryear, and can’t escape their problems, and we do.  But we shouldn’t have to feel like we’re trapped with them as well.

photos by Monique Carboni

The Good Mother
The New Group at The Acorn Theater (Theatre Row)
scheduled to end on December 22nd, 2012
for tickets, call New York City Theatre at 800-901-4092 or visit here.

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