Entertainment » Theatre

Grizzly Mama

by Christopher Verleger
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jan 14, 2016
Betsy Rinaldi as Laurel (reclined), Amanda Ruggiero as Hannah Marshall
Betsy Rinaldi as Laurel (reclined), Amanda Ruggiero as Hannah Marshall   

Oh, the things we will do to make our parents proud.

George Brant's darkly comic "Grizzly Mama," now at Gamm Theatre, is a brilliant, explosive portrayal of mother-daughter relationships, examined under the microscope of a political climate where the influence of loud voices and extreme viewpoints often inadvertently results in nonsensical and potentially harmful behavior.

The always outstanding Casey Seymour Kim delivers another exceptional performance as Deb Marshall, a suburban Ohio housewife and mother. Deb is the daughter of a renowned feminist whose magnum opus, "The Female Judas," caused quite a stir in its day (a la Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique").

Determined to assuage her guilt for having become the antithesis of her liberated mother, Deb trades her cul-de-sac for the Alaskan woods, where her next door neighbor is none other than Patti Turnbeck, a right wing, conservative candidate for President (modeled after Sarah Palin) whose favorite things to preach about are God and guns. Coincidence? Not so much.

When Deb's teenage daughter, Hannah (Amanda Ruggiero, fierce and flawless), learns the real reason her mother uprooted their lives, she reluctantly plays along with her intentions, until she makes the acquaintance of Patti's daughter, Laurel (a sassy, sensitive Betsy Rinaldi), and realizes they have a lot more in common than just a mastery of the language of texting.

While Brant's script packs a heavy emotional punch, the profound interplay between these women is as amusing as it is engaging, and Rachel Walshe's stellar direction of these three eloquent performances keeps the tension heavy amidst plenty of laughs.

Despite Deb's inarguably drastic conduct, you cannot help but like (or at least sympathize with) her, and therefore expect that her inherent good nature will prevail in the end. Though she wants to make her late mother proud, she fails to anticipate the effect it may have on her own daughter -- much like the talking heads of the 24-hour news cycle, as well as those running for public office (from both sides of the aisle), who freely spout their rhetoric without considering the consequences.

Regardless of your political leanings, "Grizzly Mama" is a powerful story (albeit exaggerated) about parenthood and, in particular, how daughters emulate their mothers, both deliberately and involuntarily. Much has been written about "the sins of the father," and this play reminds us that a mother's inclination is no less, if not more, significant.

"Grizzly Mama" runs through Feb. 7 at The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street in Pawtucket. For information or tickets, call 401-723-4266 or visit Gamm Theatre's website.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.


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