Playwright: Melissa Maxwell
At: ETA Creative Arts Foundation at ETA Square, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave.
Phone: ( 773 ) 752-3955; $25
Runs through: Jan. 22
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
The very existence of a play genre called 'Mama on the couch' attests to the assumption of Matriarchal Infallibility in modern African-American Drama, making author Melissa Maxwell's assertion that Mother does NOT always know best a pretty radical one. To be sure, Mrs. Williams and her peers aren't wholly misguided, only as restricted in their experience as the girls they would advise. But the destructive consequences of dreams deferred are not diminished for being engendered by the Ties That Bind, rather than external social forces.
We first meet our heroine in a nursing facility, an old woman crying out to the loved ones who have abandoned her—an undeniable indication that her life has gone astray. As the events leading to this moment unfold, we look for the deed that consigned her to this fate, and what does it turn out to be, but that she obeyed her mother? When the teenage Julia proposed to pursue a career in show business with a jitterbug dancer, her strict parent threatened her with banishment.
The daughter's reward for her loyalty is a distasteful marriage of convenience, an early widowhood, a childless second marriage to a war-casualty husband, and a middle-age steeped in alcoholic anger as caretaker to her oppressor.
Where is the crime in a mother, herself too soon married and encumbered with six children to raise on her own after the untimely deaths of their two fathers, exhorting her offspring to take the safe path? At a time of few opportunities for Women Of Color, why should a teacher not proclaim employment as a Domestic superior to Cinderella fantasies? And though we hear that the ambitious swain has become successful on the dance-contest circuit, would Julia's happiness with him have been fleeting? Is it more important to make the 'right' decision, or to make one's OWN decision?
Maxwell sacrifices none of the complexities in her exploration of Mother-Daughter conflicts. And under the likewise intelligent direction of Ilesa Duncan, a smart cast led by Makeba Pace as the embittered Julia and Sharyn Michele Grose as the steely Mrs. Williams invoke personalities of heartbreaking humanity, their poignancy compounded by the flashes of hope that cannot help but break through the despair.