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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the New Group


  Gretchen Mol and Darren Goldstein/ Ph: Monique Carboni

In dealing out dramatic turning points in The Good Mother (surely the title is meant slant), playwright Francine Volpe holds back a lot of cards while appearing to plunk them right on the table.

From the start, we know something is off about Larissa (Gretchen Mol), the single mother of an autistic four-year-old, unseen but oft-heard moaning miserably offstage. What kind of mother preps the babysitter – goth teen Angus (Eric Nelsen, insufficiently menacing) – while primping for a hot date, clad in a short kimono? Lest there remain any doubt as to Larissa’s penchant for the inappropriate, she starts regaling Angus with such gems of adult wisdom as, “Sometimes people just need to be touched. Do you know?”

This is a woman so out of touch with her own sexuality – except perhaps as an object – that her idea of foreplay, after she lures home a lucky trucker (Darren Goldstein), is a herky-jerky, pole-less pole dance accompanied by finger snaps. It’s excruciating.

Larissa’s paramour du jour is not easily dissuaded – as who would be? Mol’s own extraordinary beauty is the unacknowledged elephant in the room. This woman could have any man, at the snap of her fingers. Moreover, Mol sounds more like a Vassar dropout than a struggling freelance CPA, trying to make ends meet in an apparently down-market corner of Mount Vernon, a suburb of New York. (Derek McLane’s pine-paneled living room set looks lifted from rural New Hampshire.)

It’s not until another visitor turns up – Joel (Mark Blum), Larissa’s mentor from her juvenile-delinquent past and, not coincidentally, the father of Angus – that the character arcs start to click into place. Intriguingly, Blum plays this recovering alcoholic with his voice and feelings tamped down to a near-whisper, even though Joel is at a moment of utmost crisis: Larissa has filed charges against Angus, claiming he molested her child. Never mind that the girl is “not verbal;” Larissa just knows.

Even though Joel, in classic AA fashion, shoulders a certain degree of blame for letting their emotional bond grow too close back when Larissa was a teen, he’s on to her game – that of a compulsive seductress and manipulative drama queen.

This juncture, when they go head to head (Larissa is slick with the Oprah-speak), is really the starting point of the play. At last we begin to get some idea of what makes Larissa tick. One more visitor (Alfredo Narciso), also a figure from Larissa’s bad-girl past, will make an appearance. And we’ll also hear – via letter – from Judy, Larissa’s longtime best friend and former partner in petty crime, who shuns her with the pronouncement, “All you want is attention.”

In this tightly written, relatively short play – director Scott Elliott throws in a few too many inert pauses, as if to flesh it out – Larissa commands our attention in ever tightening gyres. Mol, though miscast as one of life’s preordained losers, is valiant to take on the role, even if her salient, unignorable glamour skews the interpersonal dynamics.


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