Such is most certainly the case with Lisa Ebersole’s play Mother, which follows in the tradition of recent family dramas like Dividing the Estate and August: Osage County in prominently featuring its cast around a dinner table.
In Mother, however, unlike the aforementioned, the entirely play is set exclusively around a table in the dining room of the Inn at Brier Valley in West Virginia.
It’s December 2009 in the play, and the Leroy Family have gathered at their favorite family vacation spot in West Virginia.
There are showtunes lilting in the background, played by some Muzak-prone piano player, and everything seems at first to be A-okay.
Soon, however, things start to go awry. Son Jackie’s dating a married woman, atheistic daughter Kate (played by Ebersole) is still single, father Joseph hasn’t been keeping the family’s finances in their usual tidy order, and mother Kitty is facing some serious health problems.
The way Ebersole has constructed the play, as one family member leaves – to fetch something or other upstairs – another enters. Then several characters leave to find those missing; then the missing party returns. This allows a variety of combinations of family members to have it out with one another. Still, the plotting of the evening seems a bit gimmicky, as if this in-and-out movement is merely an excuse to pair particular characters and not strictly necessary to the play as a whole.
Still, there are wonderful performances here, and most of the comedy rings true. Legendary screenwriter and actor Buck Henry plays Joseph Leroy with a sense of lovable mischief. He’s poised to pull out a pack of playing cards at the dinner table if his family didn’t stop him. And Holland Taylor as Kitty Leroy is similarly magnificent, her angular features just right for her character, who is full of regrets but still cheerful on the surface.
There’s not much that’s groundbreaking about Ebersole’s play, but it’s still an entertaining evening of theatre. As with a good deal of plays about families, it’s easy to see oneself and one’s family members up on-stage. And, though the construction of the play seems a tad neat, there’s still a great deal of mess in the characters’ lives to bring a measure of real-life melancholy to the table.