The mother/daughter dynamic is a convoluted one – speaking myself as a daughter who has both benefited from the advice of a strong willed woman while at the same time fought to get out from under the weight of Mother’s somewhat (shall we say) “insistent” personality. So, for me, Mary-Beth Manning’s Mother she’s with you wherever you go was a show that I knew was going to bring up a lot of issues before it even started. The wonderful thing about this solo-show, however, is that while Mary-Beth’s mother Joanie is one hundred percent a unique character unto herself, Manning manages to hit upon the universal themes we all struggle with when dealing with a person who is both our constant source of inspiration and comfort as well as our constant source of agitation, depending on the day.
What Manning has masterfully done here is create a solo-show that captures every nuance of her relationship with her larger-than-life (at times) mother, Joanie, while still leaving room for interpretation so that the audience may create parallels to their own mothers where necessary.
The set is largely bare save for a chair which Manning moves around several times and uses at her discretion. Manning’s marvelous physicality and tremendous ability to shrug numerous personalities on and off with little more than a change in posture make a set completely unnecessary, however, and her storytelling style is so evocative that she is able to conjure up school days, hospital rooms and even a night at the ballet watching as Alicia Alonzo dance Giselle to a mesmerized audience of ballet lovers. So captivating is Manning, so remarkable is her ability to bring these moment to life in front of you, that we are equally mesmerized.
I’m usually suspicious of plays that are written, performed, and created by only one person; often being to close to the subject material lead to a myopia that creates a boring, ineffectual piece. Not so with MOTHER. With Roma Maffia lending a hand with staging this still is a play that benefits from being cocooned within the creativity of one woman – after all … she is giving us the journey of her relationship with her mother – that’s one journey that’s not up for interpretation.
What makes this show so riveting is that it’s not just about a child’s relationship with her mother, but rather it is about a child’s life and how it parallels the life of her greatest influence – who happens to be her mother. So we are also treated to glimpses of bittersweet moments when child and mother’s path diverge. For instance, early on in her career when Manning is cast as Joanne Woodward’s daughter in “See How She Runs” she is treated to a dinner with Woodward and Paul Newman … a dinner she attends without her mother but which she recounts excitedly after the fact. Manning perfectly channels her mother’s pride in having a daughter who has been able to have such an experience yet perfectly portrays her mother’s desire to hide her disappointment at not being included from her daughter so as not to spoil the specialness of the night. Small moments like this seem so effortless yet completely showcase how brilliant Manning is at layering in all the complexity of this relationship.
Joanie is no longer here; and that is explored as well during the play. Simply put, the scenes in which Manning spends her last days with her mother are nothing short of heartbreaking, and tears were falling freely in the theatre – people openly weeping at the intense grief as the intense bond that we’d watch being created was now being ripped apart.
There is, however, a triumphant ending, and the show ends on a high note. When Manning comes out for her final bow it’s impossible not to feel like you know this woman better than you know some of your friends. And if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, the first thing you want to do after this show is call her. And somehow, even when she starts nagging you about all those little things, the words sound a little more like music, filtered through the heart of Mary-Beth Manning.
Only one show left – tonight. Go see it while you can.
MOTHER she’s with you wherever you go
presented by Mary-Beth Manning
Writer: Mary-Beth Manning