Today I’m excited to start a brand new feature on this blog! Because there’s so much amazing, dynamic theater out there in Austin, and understandably the Austin American-Statesman can only send me to cover so much, I’m going to be doing some occasional theater reviews that are unique to this site!
The first of these is the world premiere of a brand new play by “the play doctor,” Austin’s own Lisa B. Thompson, called The Mamalogues.
Co-produced by Color Arc Productions and The VORTEX (and playing through September 7th at the VORTEX), The Mamalogues is a moving, funny, inspiring exploration of black motherhood in today’s America.
Unlike some of Thompson’s recent work to grace the Austin stage, The Mamalogues is not a straight-forward realist drama, but rather (as the title might suggest) a series of deep dives into varying aspects of motherhood. While some of these are universal (like the physical nature of labor pains), others are specific to single black mothers, such as how to talk to their children about racism or what it’s like developing friendships with white mothers who can never fully understand their experience.
The moral force of the play, then, is aimed in two directions. First, Thompson clearly wants to create a work that sees and is seen by black women, representing their experiences and struggles in a way that we don’t often find in our mainstream art and media. She mines equally the moments of joy, wonder, heartbreak, and sorrow that are a part of being a mother (or even a parent in general), but then ties those specifically into experiences that are unique to black women, finding the universal in both the quotidian and the particular.
In doing so, though, the secondary power of the text shines through, creating a vehicle for non-black audiences to understand just how difficult and worrisome it is to be the parent of a black child in today’s America. After all, as Thompson reminds us, the paranoia that every parent feels about the world wanting to hurt their child is natural; but for black parents, that paranoia is real and justified.
Of course, this message wouldn’t land were it not for powerful performances by the three leading ladies–Yvonne Oaks, Valoneecia Tolbert, and Melody Ann Fullylove. Representing motherhood in three different stages, each woman speaks to the specific experiences of her character while at the same time transforming into a variety of roles as called for by the melange of memory and fantasy. They work remarkably well as an ensemble, with director Rudy Ramirez helping them create a full world on the stage with no more than their bodies and three chairs. Tolbert, especially, excels at tapping into the play’s most heartbreaking moments, and delivering some of its most hilarious witticisms.
The Mamalogues is a vibrant and vital piece of theater that will speak to all audience members, whether they are mothers or not, and serves as a potent reminder–just when we need it the most–that sometimes the most heroic thing we can do as humans is to stand up to a cruel world and protect those around us.