It’s a little freaky, brothers and sisters, to see Stephen Spotswood’s Morning, Miranda only a few days after viewing Ann Randolph’s excellent Loveland in Arena. It is a rare thing to see two plays about women hauling their mother’s ashes across the country during the course of a single season, let alone in a single week. But there it is.
Randolph’s Frannie Potts is an emotionally disturbed performance artist who carries the weight of her unresolved relationship with her mother along with the ashes. But Morning’s Miranda Howe (K. Clare Johnson), a feisty, tough-as-nails piano player at a tranny bar, carries an even heavier weight – the mother herself (Sarah Holt), who materializes in the middle of Miranda’s conversation with a human grease spot of a lawyer (Jon Jon Johnson). Mom is there, she announces, to make certain that Miranda follows her instructions and takes her ashes to San Francisco – a place where mom has never been.
OK, so mom’s a little controlling. She’s also an agoraphobic, as it turns out, although in death she is able to modify her terror of open spaces enough to travel comfortably with Miranda in an enormous Buick. As we get to know mom, we see her crippling disease as an extension of her fastidious personality, and eventually we settle into the style of a familiar domestic comedy, with dead people, of the Topper and My Mother the Car variety.
Regrettably, though, Something Happens at the end of the first Act, and we morph into something else – the land of the newly dead, or something, peopled by a circus troupe which forces Miranda into being their audience. The troupe is resolutely dreadful: a lion tamer (David Dubov) sans lions; a juggler (Ally Jenkins) with only one ball – but the piece de resistance is the reappearance of mom, riding on the shoulders of the ringmaster (Adam R. Adkins). She doesn’t remember who Miranda is.
This theme – that the dead don’t remember the living – is not a new one; Sarah Ruhl explored it interestingly, and beautifully, in Eurydice a few years back. But here it is at cross-purposes with the narrative. In Act One, mom is too much with us, haunting Miranda even from the grave; in Act Two, mom is not with us at all, and can muster up no more than a polite vagueness in the presence of her daughter.
Morning, Miranda was Spotswood’s graduate thesis at Catholic University, and it has the faint aroma of the Academy. The beginning of Act II seems imported from some other play, and works to show only the playwright’s familiarity with other influences (Beckett? Stoppard? Pirandello?). But once we get the joke the scene is overlong, and but for Rachel Manteuffel’s astonishing turn as a contortionist, does not contribute to our theatrical experience.
Closes April 12, 2014
Doorway Arts Ensemble
The Writers Center
4508 Walsh Street
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Don’t get me wrong: there are some nice things about the production. Spotswood shows some real insight into the human condition, and there are a lot of funny lines. Dubov is wonderful as Aunt Jack, who is Miranda’s boss and confidant and father figure and a great drag queen to boot. Holt does a good job with mom. Jon Jon Johnson and K. Clare Johnson both do impressive work when their bodies are temporarily possessed by mom’s ghost, and choreographer Jennie Lutz stages a nice fight between characters played by Adkins and Richard Owen. But the whole, I think, is too disparate to hold together.
I think that one day Spotswood will write an excellent play, and I will feel that it was a privilege to be in the audience for it. This isn’t it, though.
Morning, Miranda by Stephen Spotswood . Directed by Matt Ripa, assisted by Mary Cat Gill . Featuring Adam R. Adkins, David Dubov, Sarah Holt, Ally Jenkins, K. Clare Johnson, Jon Jon Johnson, Rachel Manteuffel, and Richard Owen . Set and lighting design: Chris Holland . Sound design: Mehdi Raoufi . Costume design: Jesse Shipley . Choreography . choreographer: Jennie Lutz . Produced by Doorway Arts Ensemble . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.