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Laughing through Tears: ‘Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off

by April Stamm

Cry Baby Jamie AderskiMotherhood is no f-ing joke. And comic Jamie Aderski will be the first to agree with me on that. Terrible stuff happens when you carry, birth, and try to raise a baby; vividly gross, heart-breaking, explosively painful, and exhausting stuff. In her one-woman show, Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood, Jamie Aderski takes us through all of it, in minute detail.

In her self-written solo show about her own pregnancy, birth, and first 11 months of motherhood, Aderski breaks it down pretty clearly into three parts. Part I (aptly titled “You’re F*cked”) includes visual aids by way of a large notebook on an easel and some audience shout out participation as she takes us the through the horrors that befall a woman’s body during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum. Of course, she goes over the common knowledge catastrophes most likely familiar even to the layman, that pregnancy makes you blow up like a balloon, birthing a five- to nine-pound human being out of a tiny hole can hurt just a little bit, and that babies cry a lot. Then she delves into the lesser-known (unless you’ve done it) disasters like that your hair, once made uber thick and shiny by pregnancy, falls out in literal clumps after birth. Part I concludes as Aderski takes us through the actual process of birth in all of its frightening and rippingly painful glory framed in a film noir motif.

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

On to Part Two: “This is Not a Game.” Through this portion of the evening, we actually do play a game, an audience member is called up, a baby doll is handed out, a basket of soothers given including your standard pacifier, bottle, and some more bewildering (to the non-stroller wielding set) items like a Nose Frida (parent favorite used to literally suck babies boogers out with a tube you put in your own actual mouth) and the ever popular fart whistle… then a timer is put on and said audience member gets to “sooth” the baby.

Part III, “Aftermath,” starts with a slightly awkward, but truthful and connectable story about Aderski’s relationship with her own mother and her scarred view of what she would be like as a mother. The section ends with a somewhat random yet heartfelt collection of thoughts, small stories, shout out’s to “mom’s groups,” claims that moms can and do remain “themselves” post motherhood, all to the tune of marathon wine drinking.

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

Jamie Aderski (Photo: Mindy Tucker via The Broadway Blog.)

It all it works… for a subset of the population. Cry Baby feels a bit like it’s preaching to the choir. If you happen to be a mom (and to some degree a dad) and are in on nature’s sickest joke and most beautiful miracle, there are lots of moments to connect with in Aderski’s cautionary tale of copious bodily fluids, unending physical pain, love, and disillusionment all wrapped up in an adorable screaming little package. Some moments feel self-indulgent and even sad on a plane beyond the comic parameters of harsh reality for the sake of funny. Other moments tend towards forced (the film noir bit in Part I could be smoother with less physical movement and a little editing).

At its best, though, Aderski’s piece is personal and honest, which does strike a humorous chord, as so many of the hardest things in life can be if you just take a step back and see the funny through the pain.

Cry Baby: My (reluctant) Journey into Motherhood
Written and Performed by Jamie Aderski
The People’s Improv Theater
123 E. 24th Street, NYC
March 10, 7 p.m.
March 31, 7 p.m.

April Stamm is a freelance theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to Edge Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center.

The Family Ties That Bind: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

I have no doubt that Sam Gold’s stark, contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, The Glass Menagerie, will polarize audiences and critics alike. The current Broadway revival, which opened last night at the Belasco Theatre, is a muscular, often anachronistic work. “The play is memory,” says the son, Tom (Joe Mantello), “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” If you believe those words at face value, as I did, you will discover a production that bristles with familial uncomfortability. That pushes your boundaries beyond the suspension of disbelief. And that, ultimately, breaks your heart as the ties that bind unravel before your eyes.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, “Now and in the Past,” The Glass Menagerie reveals the layered dysfunction in the Wingfield household, helmed by matriarch Amanda (Sally Field) and her two children, Tom (Joe Mantello) and Laura (Madison Ferris). A gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) later appears, but it is the unseen fifth character of the father, “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” who looms over the proceedings like an emotional grim reaper.

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Williams’ construct is quite simple, really. During the day, Tom is trapped in a warehouse job at Continental Shoemakers while his wanderlust slowly simmers away. At home, his recluse sister plays with her glass menagerie as his mother tries to pine and manipulate her way toward an idealistic vision for a charmed life for herself and her two wayward adult children. When Tom invites his colleague, Jim, home for dinner, Amanda sets a social entrapment in the hopes that the young man will find Laura suitable for the taking. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

As narrator and son, Mantello is wiry, perhaps more middle-aged neurotic New Yorker than down-on-his-luck warehouse worker. Putting “type” aside, it makes no difference. Mantello bites into Williams’ language with a ferocity that some might remember from his Tony award-nominated performance in Angels in America. Mantello has no fear of unhinging Tom’s squelched life. And it helps that he has a terrific sparring partner in Sally Field.

Last seen on Broadway in Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, most of Field’s body of the work has been on the screen, both big and small. The two-time Academy Award winner and three-time Emmy Award winning actress as spanned half a century. Once again, the actress delivers a watershed moment, the culmination of more of a decade of yearning to return to the role, which she played at a Tennessee Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2004. Gold guides her through a fluid vacillation between aging southern belle and contemporary matriarch.

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Making her Broadway debut, Ferris is tasked with perhaps the play’s most challenging role. Laura, often portrayed as waif-like with a non-discriminant limp or another physical challenge, is lost in the world of her menagerie. Drifting in and out of life’s social demands, it is easy to shroud her as a victim. But Ferris, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her teens but hasn’t let that stop her from pursuing a theater degree from Muhlenberg College and moving to New York City, often as difficult to navigate as Williams’ masterwork. This conflict of strength and vulnerability sheds new light on Laura, who seems almost flippant at her mother’s eccentric pursuit of a gentleman caller. But Ferris tends to, at times, vacantly drift, nearly consumed by Mantello and Field’s master class.

But when Wittrock arrives as her gentleman caller, Ferris lights up. And who wouldn’t? He embodies an easy, All-American façade, but don’t be fooled by his good looks. Wittrock mines Jim for all he’s worth, clutching to a gem given by the playwright, who pegs Jim as a man in pursuit of upward mobility. Jim is taking a night course in public speaking, and Wittrock joyfully nudges this character detail to the forefront with a bellowing voice.

Stripped down to its bare walls, scenic designer Andrew Lieberman and lighting designer Adam Silverman create a barren theatrical landscape at the Belasco. But there is plenty to feast on in this eighth Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Through July 2