A Mama Worth Remembering

Another month, another show at the Gladstone, and I couldn’t be more tickled about it…and this time, it was a first for me.  That is, it was my first time seeing Community Theatre kids the Phoenix Players strut their stuff, even as they had their first ever night playing on the Gladstone stage.  I’m loving the very communal feel they have going at the revitalized Gladstone, with main players 730 and Plosive clearly more than willing to share their great space with other members of the theatrical community.  It’s an encouraging sign.

Phoenix made their little Italy debut with John Van Druten’s I REMEMBER MAMA, which is a classic on a few different levels, even having been adapted into both a movie AND a teevee show back in the day.  Telling stories based around Norwegian immigrants the Hanson Family…

No, the other one.

…and told by eldest daughter Katrin (Sheila Galbraith), MAMA spins a very warm and fuzzy story indeed of familial affection and tribulations through a wide cast of characters.  From a trio of meddling aunts to gentleman boarder Mr.Hyde, to imperious family elder Uncle Chris, but at the heart of it all is the Hanson clan themselves…children Katrin, Christine, Nils and Dagmar, Papa and, of course, Mama.  They undergo hardship, heartache, loss, and even death, and yes, it’s a little cheesy at times, but that’s as it should be.  The good stuff is ALWAYS A little cheesy, to cynical eyes.  But I’m happy to report I got choked up more than a time or two during this performance.

There was a big cast, and I won’t list everyone here, but I will mention a few standouts to my eyes…I adored Kimberly Bateman’s cowering Aunt Trina, desperate to marry her equally meek Mr.Thorkelson (Tim Picotte).  Megan Damini’s sneering, no-nonsense Christine was a hoot, and I gotta shoutout to Will Lafrance (of ZASTROZZI fame, dontcha know) as number one son Nils.  Andre Dimitrijevic damn near steals the whole show as the bombastic Uncle Chris…almost.  But as much as folks like me talk about something or other being the ‘heart’ of a play, this is one of the rare instances where I think such a thing is as true as it gets.  And in this case, it’s Vanessa Cook’s portrayal of ‘Mama’ Marta Hanson, as thoroughly honest and consistent a performance as you could hope for, and she absolutely anchors the entire show around her touchingly earnest portrayal of a Mother so devoted to her family she makes June Cleaver look like Joan Crawford.

Of course, the REAL star of the show is Toby, no question.  Prix Rideau Awards, next stop…But you’ll have to head out to the Gladstone tomorrow (2 pm OR 730!) to check  out his amazing performance before it’s too  late!  Trust me, you’ll be glad ya did.  I still got the warm fuzzies from this show.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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