The story promises to be one that more than enough folks are familiar with—the horrors of dealing with that ill-fated creature of criticism, the mother-in-law. Mother-in-Law: The Musical, written by Suzanne Knapik and directed by Kelli Boyd, ostensibly follows the ups and downs of the relationship between a mother-in-law, her daughter, and her daughter’s wife/partner/whichever spousal term of choice you prefer.
Ohhhh, I thought, as I crossed and uncrossed my legs in my seat, this play could be ripe with contemporary issues for the picking—maybe we’ll explore the psychological and emotional depths of a religious, typically heterosexual septuagenarian who has a child whose lifestyle is drastically different from her own, or maybe we’ll gain insight on the not too-often explored perspective of the lesbian partner’s relationship with her mother-in-law…and all done to song? This almost sounded too good to be true.
That’s because it was.
Mother-in-Law: The Musical was an exercise in patience—patiently waiting for the actors to remember their lines, patiently waiting for the actors to find the proper key in a song, and patiently waiting for a plot to develop; unfortunately, patience proved to be the forgotten virtue in this production.
The play opens on the porch of a suburban DC home on Thanksgiving. Suzannne (Stephanie Svec) and Donna (Virginia Frank) relax on their porch, clipping coupons, doing crossword puzzles, and engaging in other activities which would justify their characters remaining ever-fast in their seats, while Suzanne laments the still on-going visit of her mother-in-law, Teresa (Martha Karl.) Suzanne and Teresa just don’t get along; Donna wishes they got along, but understands how difficult her mother can be; Teresa spouts skewed, very opinionated viewpoints ranging from Obama being a Muslim to her daughters’ house not being clean enough; Suzanne irks her on and they occasionally fight. And there’s occasional singing.
If it sounds like I’m not penetrating too deeply into plot points, it’s because, unfortunately, the play itself doesn’t go much further than this. Circular conversations and sloppy writing leave the committed actors, who glaringly appear to have been under-rehearsed and under-directed, talking themselves into wide, lazy circles that don’t appear to have any resolution, end, or even logical stopping place in sight.
The lyrics of the musical numbers were by far the highlight of the production; the musical quality of the numbers left something strongly to be desired. Songs such as “I’m Perfect, I’m Perfect” and “Just What the Doctor Ordered” demonstrate a verbal prowess and puniness that the rest of the show sorely lacked; however even their lyricism couldn’t gloss over the fact that no one in the cast was a particularly strong singer, or could sing in harmony with one another.
Mother-in-Law: The Musical presents an interesting premise with poor execution. Workshopping, reworking direction, and more rehearsals could turn this piece into something more than what it presently is, which, unfortunately isn’t much more than politely delivered anecdotes and smatterings of skittish singing.
Mother-In-Law: The Musical
Directed and Choreographed by Kelli Boyd
Book by Suzanne Knapik
Music by Jared Wilayto
Lyrics by Jared Wilayto and Suzanne Knapik
Running time: 60 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?