‘Mother May I’ at Strand Theater Company by Amanda Gunther


You’ll find the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional at Strand Theater Company as they kick off their fifth season with the world premier of Dylan Brody’s Mother, May I. A slice of life style dramadey that takes the audience into the world of a family of four; an egocentric mother, a repressed father, a not-so closeted lesbian daughter, and a mysterious estranged son. The play opens up with the parents kvetching over the arrival of their mostly distanced son and his girlfriend, Sarah. Lies and secrets unfold and the shenanigans ensue. Overall, it’s a good laughable evening with well- executed acting and a touching story that anyone who has a family – regardless of how normal or crazy – can related to.

Larry Levinson (Paul Grunman). Photo courtesy of Strand Theater Company.

Directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Rain Pryor, the production is well-paced even if it is a little unbalanced with a brief half hour first act and a much longer second act. The characters have well developed relationships, enough so that you believe you’ve inadvertently walked into someone’s house for dinner and are politely watching their life devolve before your eyes. The strong sense of character development enhances the moments of hilarious comedy and sharply increases the shocking moments of drama that occur throughout the production, especially in Act II.

Scenic Artist Ryan Michael Haase manages to craft a homey and quaint interior in The Strand Theater Company’s small and challenging space. Haase’s design provides unique viewing angles for the audience, having a large portion of the action occurring on the left side of the audience rather than directly in front of them. This augments the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective of the audience giving them a much more intimate experience with Brody’s work.

Brody showcases his talents as an artful anecdotalist with his original and engaging style. The dialogue is gripping without sounding cliché, the characters toe the fine line of realistic to the extreme where one joke too many could send them over into the territory of caricature; all of these exciting elements bound into one show with reveals and explosions timed precisely at critical moments makes Brody’s work a captivating sensation to see on the stage.

Playing the unflappable outsider, Sarah Cannerly (Caroline C. Kiebach) steps into a world of unexpected family drama as she flies to Boston with her boyfriend to visit his parents and sister. Kiebach is gentle and mild compared to the other personalities of the household, smiling simply and trying to keep the peace when a situation arises. Her humbling ability to overlook the utter lunacy that is galloping through the family dynamic is incredible. Kiebach provides the audience with a sense of calm when frustrating moments hit to close to home for anyone who has ever found themselves in this sort of situation.

Opposite the calm outsider is her boyfriend, the estranged son, Daniel (Jon Kevin Lazarus). While managing to maintain his cool most of the time, he comes with a smokestack lid that eventually gets blown in the most dramatic of fashions as the catastrophic proverbial shit finally hits the fan. Lazarus lets his milky mild character erupt into something spastic late in Act II which really shows that he’s sunk his teeth deep into the role despite seeming rather nonchalant and bland in the first half of the show.

(l to r) Paul Grunman (Larry Levinson) Daniel Grunman (Jon Kevin Lazarus) Sarah Cannerly (Caroline C. Kiebach), Ellen Grunman (Valerie Lash) and Franny Grunman (Jessical Felice). Photo courtesy of Strand Theater Company.

Moving up the family pole we find the lesbian sister, Franny (Jessica Felice) who is the epitome of a comic chip on one’s shoulder. While not particularly bitter or even cruel, Felice does have that running hot-and-cold attitude that enables her to keep pace with her whacky egocentric mother and not allow the insults to sting too deep. Felice’s brilliant performance is echoed through her bird-like physicality. She flits through the house in a manner reminiscent of a vaguely disinterested bird, jutting her neck forward in tense movements, and allowing the angularity of her body to speak volumes about her emotional turmoil rather than just having to shout about it.

Paul (Larry Levinson) is a masterful dynamic character that takes you for a journey and a half during this production. His habit of quickly sliding in to cut off his wife’s tantrums and long winded tangents is both uncanny and amusing, despite him rarely being able to get a word in edgewise. Levinson provides great depth to the character, again like Felice in executing so much emotion through his physicality and his facial expressions. Remaining quiet and mostly calm throughout the production creates for an enormous payoff when he finally gets his moment to erupt at the end of the madness.

(l to r) Caroline C. Kiebach (Sarah Cannerly) and Valerie Lash (Ellen Grunman). Photo courtesy of Strand Theater Company.

And then there’s Ellen (Valerie Lash) – your stereotypical needling obnoxious mother who is wrapped up in her own world with conveniently selective hearing, temperamental memory and all around self-centered characteristics that just make her simply a riot. Lash drives the show with her constant scenes of being aloof and wound up in her own little world. Brody has created this character in such a way that she can only relate to the outside world as it relates to her – marking major moments in time with trivial and insignificant things like what she was wearing or what she ate at that particular time – and Lash does the character a supreme justice. Her nasally pinched voice needles at you the whole production and her amazing ability to only take away from the conversation what she wishes to is simply jaw-dropping in a funny and incredulous manner. Lash’s performance is a sheer uproarious night of magnificence and they could not have found a better person for the leading role.

Madness doesn’t run in this family, it gallops, but it’s the comedic drama everyone wants to see. Two performances have already been completely sold out, so be sure to book your tickets now.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Mother, May I plays through October 12, 2012 at  Strand Theater Company – at 1823 North Charles Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 874-4917, or purchase them online.

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