Remember Sarah Palin? Of course you do. Who could forget?
Well, the political career of Ms. Palin is the jumping off point for “Grizzly Mama” by George Brant, the author of the high-flying “Grounded” done at the Gamm last year.
But “Grizzly Mama” is a very different piece of theater. It takes off and goes way beyond the blue yonder, into a world of familial atmosphere, good and bad, loving and hating.
In two hours with an intermission it slices sharply, dangerously into mother/daughter relations. Reaching back to Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman” it repeats that “attention must be paid,” that, memories between mothers and daughters, must be handled with care. They can be explosive.
True enough, the play sometimes wanders, sometimes has you thinking, “just what's going on here?” But if you stay with it through the Gamm's sharply sizzling production, you'll be rewarded, not with clarity and a clean ending, but with something to chew on for quite a while.
Here's the plot: Reeling from the death of her mother, Deb moves herself and her teenaged daughter, Hannah, from relatively leafy Ohio to the snowy wilderness, somewhere in Alaska. Next door lives one Patti, whom we never meet but who clearly connects with Ms. Palin. Patti you see, is running for President of the United States.
Mother and daughter have a slippery relationship. Hannah spends most of her time on her smart phone. Do you even know what a #2 pencil is? screams Mom.
Then enters Laurel, teen daughter of would-be president Patti. She's pregnant, wants an abortion. After all, “I've got a life, you know,” she maintains.
Believe it or not, all of this is hilarious. Playwright Brant definitely knows how to be fast and funny. But he also can train his fire-power on difficult subjects. Mom Deb goes quite wacky, quite murderous. Daughter Hannah tries, fails, and tries again to cope.
Laurel becomes the catalyst of the grisly final acts of “Grizzly Mama.”
Director Rachel Walshe, a mother of three, who directed “Marie Antoinette” at the Gamm, keeps the pace crisp and crackling, funny and ever-so serious. The always astute Casey Seymour Kim has you chuckling as Mama Deb, at least until things get difficult and dangerous anyway.
Amanda Ruggiero is great as a teen and strong as a female when “Grizzly Mama” goes off the deep end. Betsy Rinaldi is just fine, too, as the daughter of the would-be president.
Designer Michael McGarty's set combines birch trees with just the right touch of beat-up kitchen and living room.
“Grizzly Mama” looks into life and love, fear and need. True, it's also a bit wobbly, a little unclear. Kind of like life. You can't understand all. But you are definitely aware that something major is being presented. Those memories have to be coped with, one way or another.
Grizzly Mama” continues at the Gamm Theatre through February 7th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.
Correction: An earlier version of this review identified Eugene O'Neill as the author of "Death of a Salesman." The play was written by Arthur Miller.
Editor's note: In the audio version of this review, the play 'Death of a Salesman' is referred to as being written by Eugene O'Neill. It was in fact written by fellow American playwright Arthur Miller. The copy has been changed to reflect that, but the audio cannot be changed.