Tuesday , May 28 2024
Nancy Redman in her solo show, "A Séance With Mom," directed by Austin Pendleton, at Chain Studio Theatre, NYC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Nancy Redman in her solo show, "A Séance With Mom," directed by Austin Pendleton, at Chain Studio Theatre, NYC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘A Séance with Mom’ – Nancy Redman Summons a Jewish Mother from Beyond the Grave

On paper, A Séance with Mom seemed right up my alley – a comic’s solo show about contacting one’s departed Jewish mother, featuring mistaken identity, a family secret, and a rabbi-turned-clueless guardian angel, all directed by the estimable Austin Pendleton. But oy vey how it fails to deliver, and what a shanda.

Nancy Redman wrote and plays Nadine in this partly autobiographical piece. Middle-aged and bearing a childhood trauma, Nadine never revealed this secret to her mother, Gussie, while Gussie was alive. It’s serious subject matter, and as such, just like comedy, it deserves craftsmanship. Unfortunately the production is devoid of the pacing and structure one would expect from a veteran comic and playwright and an accomplished director. Slow, repetitive, and meandering, its tedium is leavened only by an occasional spot of humor that lands and a few minutes of focus when Nadine‘s mother Gussie finally – after what seems like forever – appears.

Jewish Mothers and Others

Redman’s voicings of the characters, who besides the rabbi include other Gussies and a surprise guest, could be effective if given pointed material from which to, well, materialize. Gussie, with her endless reminiscing, hardly lets Nadine get in a word; we probably all know mothers like that, but this quality is developed so pokily, the memories so random and trivial, that the result is like an unedited stream of consciousness, lacking artful molding. Meanwhile, while Nadine and Gussie feel real, the hapless rabbi is an unbearable caricature. And the mistakenly summoned other mothers with the same name as Nadine’s don’t bring very much of the comic effect they’re meant to.

Funny and sharply-drawn fictional Jewish mothers aren’t hard to come by in the age of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a show on which such characters come to vivid life even when played by non-Jewish actors. That kind of quickening evades Redman here, whether she’s Nadine sitting in her messy apartment going through old clothes made by her grandmother, or Gussie nagging from beyond the grave. As a result the secret, despite being set up throughout, when finally revealed seems to come out of nowhere – as does so much in this sincerely conceived, but sadly soporific work.

All that said, an impromptu talkback after the performance revealed that the show had touched some members of the audience rather deeply. After all, how many of us can say we have nothing we wish we’d said to a loved one who has passed on? And as always, when it comes to art and entertainment, to each their own. A Séance with Mom runs through September 3 at Chain Studio Theatre in New York City. Tickets are available online.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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