"MOMologues explores the complexity of women: a theater review"
By Hank Nuwer
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
September 14th, 2023
My wife and I nearly missed seeing playwright Brianna Allen's play MOMologues.
Here is why. We accidentally grabbed printed tickets to another future show, and we had no time to drive back home before showtime. A ticket taker at The Basement black box theater had a printed list of ticket buyers and waved us inside. No ticket, no problem in Fairbanks. You think that courtesy would have happened in New York or Chicago? Ya think!
We joined a small audience made up mainly, although not entirely, of women, and I recognized a number of actors I’d seen in other Fairbanks performances.
The bare stage contained five chairs and no other adornments other than water bottles for the performers. The overhead lights reminded me of a police interrogation room. The point of this play was that the performers spilled their most intimate secrets and confessed their flaws as mothers and human beings. This made for revelations most excruciating to hear but faces on the Basement theater audience were rapt all play long.
The play began with five performers taking their chairs and opening identical scripts. The most familiar face to many playgoers was Carey Seward who herself is a playwright and head of the Seward’s Follies troupe. The remaining four women were Jesse Bartlett, Amanda Bent, Amelia Cooper and Cherie Bowman. They wore street clothes, and their feet protruded under the chairs to show off quite different footwear that fit their respective personalities even before uttering one line.
Allen’s play is derived from more than 100 women she interviewed anonymously on the subject of motherhood. The women were nothing like Supermom June Cleaver in “Leave It to Beaver” or Margaret Anderson in “Father Knows Best.” On the other hand, none were evil trolls like “Mommie Dearest”’s Joan Crawford.
No, these were smart women that seemed at the start to have little more in common than bearing children and making bad life choices. But by the play’s somber, although slightly optimistic end, that notion was misspelled. These were edgy, complicated, sexual beings worn down by life and motherhood but far from down-and-out.
The five actors recited lines culled from Allen’s interviews. These women variously fought addiction, accidental pregnancies, ill-chosen one-night stands, clueless male partners, painful childbirths, stillborn babies, difficult children, and more troubles than any female version of Job should endure. The play intentionally was political in content. Roe vs. Wade and feminist views were woven into some of the more intense MOMologues.
The play made me as a male feel uncomfortable in many places, and the rage, ribald laughter, crushing confessions and tearful resignation of the five women likely made all us males watching aware of our past cluelessness with female partners. I, for example, will never say “Hey, Babe!” to my wife again. I learned my lesson from one hilarious monologue about flawed significant others who used that appelation.
In short, the play challenged the audience, as did the question-and-answer session with Allen following the show. The play and Q & A taken together gave visible cathartic release to all in attendance. The discussion was as frank as the play itself.
These five performers artfully played women who did the best they could with what little they had. or, at times, who failed miserably and behaved erratically. Bartlett, whose body parts “fell out” during an ectopic pregnancy, and the sometimes shrill-voiced Bowman played excruciatingly vulnerable women. Bent was thoughtful as the oft-harried mother who kicked booze and drugs. Seward was the cerebral one. Amelie Cooper was sidesplittingly funny and candid as she described a dreadful birth control method that went sideways.
All performers collectively stole the stage and audience hearts. A very effective device was for all five women to repeat, in order, the same plaintive lines.
In spite of life handing them unending challenges and roadblocks, these women somehow endured. When my wife and I returned home, we discussed the play until midnight. It provoked us, and we discussed her own challenges as a mother herself. We next plan to read Allen’s book “The MOMologue Collective,” which we purchased.
Unfortunately, this play at The Basement was a one-night gig. The performance deserved a packed audience and at least a one-week run. I’m hopeful Seward’s Follies will find a way to bring Allen and her play back to Fairbanks for an encore. It also would behoove a sociology or women’s study professor to bring this play to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for what it shows, not tells, about contemporary mothers.This play forced my introspection and also forced me to consider the reasons for my discomfort. I believe that discomfort is exactly the effect the playwright intended to produce in audience members.