BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
Mothers’ Day is some months away, but the Geffen Playhouse has started its celebration early. “In (M)Other Words,” a staged reading of short pieces on all themes maternal, opened on February 23 and is scheduled to play through May 1 in the intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis space.
The “theatrical anthology” features works by more than a dozen playwrights, including Leslie Ayvazian, whose all-too-brief “Threesome” – an elegiac take on empty nest syndrome – qualifies among the show’s highlights.
Ayvazian is best known for “Nine Armenians,” though her dramatic reach extends far beyond ethnic fare – all the way into the realm of the absurd. Her approach to “Threesome,” however, is straightforward, even simple, which only heightens the monologue’s emotional potency.
“Threesome” captures the void and silence that a mother experiences when her musician son leaves home for college. The fact that the music accompanying the piece is composed by Ayvazian’s real-life son suggests the deeply personal nature of the writing.
Jane Kaczmarek delivers the monologue flawlessly, infusing it with both joy and heartbreak. In fact, Kaczmarek – an Emmy-nominated actress who played a memorable mom on television’s “Malcolm in the Middle” – elevates all the scenes in which she appears. She’s quite mesmerizing in “Queen Esther” as a mother whose young son prefers girls’ clothes and in “Almost a Family” as a woman whose relationship with daughters not her own proves elusive.
As a whole, the show suffers moments that are too cute, too saccharine, too earnest, and too overwrought. Fortunately, they are balanced with passages that are genuinely moving, fiercely funny, and profoundly honest. “It’s not inevitable: love,” Beth Henley writes in “Report on Motherhood” – a line that turns out to be the show’s most devastating.
Henley, a Pulitzer Prize winner for “Crimes of the Heart,” and her fellow playwrights well understand that motherhood can be challenging, even grievous, but they honor it as nothing short of miraculous. As Annie Weisman writes in “My Baby,” the show’s concluding piece, “Life began – and I got to be there.”
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Happy Armenians.”