Los Angeles Theater Review: MOMMUNE (Chalk Repertory Theatre)

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by Jesse David Corti on March 12, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Chalk Repertory Theatre continues presenting non-traditional, site-specific theatre with the world premiere of Dorothy Fortenberry’s newest work, Mommune. “Mommune” is the name of a childcare center, and the two-hour real-time Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of Chalk Rep's "Mommune" in LAmelodrama about motherhood – featuring an all-woman ensemble – takes place at an actual day care center, Pint Size Kids in Sherman Oaks. Set in the not too distant future, a group of individuals (the audience) are attending a parenting class taught intermittently by different women just inside the adjacent room. The fluorescent-lit haven for toddlers generates an uncomfortably bright atmosphere for a play about delinquent mothers who hope to escape this court-ordered rehabilitation/parenting center. They can free themselves from their dark past and rejoin society by passing a final examination. The deliberations on motherhood and moving forward in life are smart, funny and affecting, but Fortenberry’s piece ultimately raises more questions than answers.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of Chalk Rep's "Mommune" in LAAt the start, the audience is directed into a small room to take part in a parenting class where a brief lecture is given on how to handle a baby; dolls are passed out for everyone to hold properly and care for correctly. After watching a fire safety video for us “parents,” the audience is kindly escorted out of the room and into the main area of the childcare center where we become voyeurs of these mothers’ rehabilitation-imprisoned lives (they refer to us as if we are still in the adjacent room). The few interactive elements – the parenting class, the handout of juice and animal crackers – help hold the audience’s attention and provide brief pauses from the story in lieu of an intermission.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of Chalk Rep's "Mommune" in LAAmy Ellenberger leads the cast with a nuanced and endearing performance as Lynne, a scatterbrained woman who nervously yearns to “graduate” the Mommune and live life in the natural light. Cate Scott Campbell is deliciously prim and vicious as the image-obsessed Trista. Bree, a mute at the Mommune who understands English but communicates in sign language, is played with jazzy urgency by Sofie Calderon. Hilary Ward is gripping as the smart and skeptical newcomer Charlotte, layering her performance with angst and agony. Ursaline Bryant delivers the richest performance of this strong ensemble as the fittingly maternal yet domineering head Matron, Mrs. Jensen.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of Chalk Rep's "Mommune" in LALarissa Korkenot swiftly stages the production in a truly memorable fashion. However, for all the good acting and wonderful use of a nontraditional space, the text is not as strong as the aforementioned elements involved. Most problematic is that towards the end, the established stakes are shattered into near-nothingness as the play devolves into drama-free monologues, an issue that my colleague Jason Rohrer insightfully articulated about in his review of CRT’s Slither. And the play may be called Mommune, but with all of the problems encompassing motherhood, it seems strange that there is nary a mention of any father or seed-provider (it takes two to procreate).

Even with fun ideas and poignant moments, this piece lacks a follow through that requires either, well, poignancy or fun… or both. As of this moment, in spite of some solid performances and the good use of a nontraditional setting, Mommune ultimately lacks a strong payoff and falls flat due to its meandering conclusion.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema review of Chalk Rep's "Mommune" in LA

photos by Dave Brewer

Chalk Rep at Pint Size Kids in Sherman Oaks
scheduled to end on April 7, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.ChalkRep.com

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