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Mama’s Boy
by Rob Urbanati
Directed by Brad Schwartz
The Tesseract Theatre Company
September 22, 2018

Tesseract Theatre Company is one theatre company I’ve seen that has seemed to figure out how to make the best use of the performance space at the .Zack Theatre. The space is known for difficult sight lines and a high stage, but in both productions I’ve seen from Tesseract at this venue, the space has been used to excellent effect and minimized its more challenging issues in terms of staging. Their latest production is a well-cast production that presents a few challenges of its own, mostly from a storytelling standpoint, althought it’s definitely a compelling story. The show is Mama’s Boy, a by Rob Urbanati, and the focus is on an infamous figure in American history and his family.

The central figures in Mama’s Boy are Lee Harvey Oswald (Brandon Atkins) and his mother, Marguerite (Donna Parrone). It’s largely told from Marguerite’s perpective, and told in flashback as she tries to challenge public perceptions of her son in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent killing of Oswald by Jack Ruby. It’s an exploration of the relationship between Oswald and his mother, as well as with his Russian-born wife Marina (Carly Uding) and his older brother Robert (Jeremy Goldmeier), recounting events between the time Oswald returned to the United States after defecting to the Soviet Union, and the JFK assassination and its aftermath. Now, there are a lot of theories about what exactly happened and what Oswald’s role was in those events, but this play focuses Marguerite’s view, and her complex and sometimes controlling relationship with her sons, and particularly Lee. It’s an intriguing, thought-provoking story for the most part, especially in terms of relationship dynamics, but there are also some elements that don’t seem necessary and only serve to add confusion to what wants to be–and is, for the most part–a tense, character-focused drama. Those elements involve characters that are referred to in the program as “Shadows” (Lydia Aiken, Kathryn Kent, Alexa Moore, Melody Quinn), who wear masks and hover around at various times throughout the play, sometimes serving a functional role by playing various minor characters as needed, and sometimes adding a mysterious air to the proceedings, but at other times they just seem to be wandering around for no specific reason. Sometimes, they can be confusing, especially in one key Act 2 scene in which Lee goes through a series of unexplained motions with one of the “Shadows” in the foreground while the rest of the characters are having a tense conversation. Although there are moments when the “Shadows” did add to the drama, most of the time they just seemed superflous and distracting.

The set, designed by Brittanie Gunn, makes excellent use of the .Zack performance space. It’s a simple stage setup with furniture that can be moved around as needed. The costumes by Amanda Brasher help to set the time and place well, and the lighting, designed by Kevin Bowman, is effective for the most part, although there are a few moments when it’s difficult to see what’s going on. Staging-wise, the show is well-paced, especially in the interactions between the main cast members.

The casting is excellent, and the relationships are well-defined. Parrone’s Marguerite is a looming, controlling presence, effectively dominating the action as fits the character. Her scenes with Atkins as the enigmatic Lee and Goldmeier as the neglected (by her) but responsible Robert are excellent. Uding, as Marina, also gives a strong, affecting performance as a woman who is increasingly confused and bewildered by her husband’s actions, and increasingly wearying of her mother-in-law. The relationships here are the heart of the play, lending emotional drama to the events as they unfold.

I didn’t know a whole lot about Oswald beyond the basic facts before seeing this play, and it works well in an educational capacity to one degree. Front and center, though, are the relationships. Apart from a few confusing moments (mostly involving the “Shadows”), this is a gripping, well-portrayed story that provides a different, closer and more intimate look at lesser known figures involved in a major moment in history.

Tesseract Theatre Company is presenting Mama’s Boy at the .Zack Theatre until September 30, 2018

 

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