To say we muse a lot about motherhood understates our obsession with the subject. The birthing and raising of children is, like sex, experienced from a variety of predilections. Maternity infiltrates religion, nationality and culture, and inspires works of art and literature. And so now comes Motherhood Out Loud, a short play on an endlessly multifaceted subject.
The 90-minute one-act, staged by Spinning Tree Theatre and directed by Andy Parkhurst, is a series of 19 vignettes by 14 accomplished writers (12 of them women), including Theresa Rebeck, Lisa Loomer, Luanne Rice, David Cale, Beth Henley and Marco Pennette. Its five chapters offer an entertaining, often poignant reflection on life's cycle. Much of it is familiar, and some of it cliché, yet four talented local actors, together as an ensemble and in solo bits, render many of this work's different parents in touching ways.
In Chapter One's "Squeeze, Hold, Release," Julie Shaw sensitively portrays both a mother and a daughter, reluctantly seeing her own mother off after bringing her new baby home. With humor and sentiment, the short monologue underscores the fear and the responsibility inherent in child rearing. And in a particularly affecting "Queen Esther," Shaw shines as a mother caught in the cross hairs of gender expectations and her young son's need to dress as a girl.
In "Baby Bird," Kelly Main gives a poised and quietly powerful performance as a woman with both a biological son and an adopted Chinese daughter who endures impertinent queries from strangers about the makeup of her family. Main transmits anxiousness in "Michael's Date," as she chauffeurs her 15-year-old autistic son on his first outing with a girl, and she conveys a different kind of connection in "Stars and Stripes" as a mother whose son soldiers in Afghanistan.
More third wheel than primary caretaker, Natalie Liccardello stands out in a family divided by divorce in "My Almost Family." And as nonconformism incarnate, Liccardello depicts a young mother entering playground and play-date culture in "New to the Motherhood."
Not to be outdone by the preponderance of mothers, Rick Truman brings us one of a different sort in the amusing "If We're Using a Surrogate, How Come I'm the One With Morning Sickness." There's some triteness in this monologue about a gay man's participation in parenthood, which now seems almost as commonplace as a woman's (almost), but there's also wit in how this man navigates a society preoccupied with sameness.
In later chapters, kids grow up and out. And some children return home, as does Truman's grown son, in "Elizabeth," sadly finding his elderly mother unwell — and himself in a new relationship dynamic.
These reflections on family aren't groundbreaking, nor do they forge new territory. We connect to these stories (and identify with some of them) because they're familiar. Though the perspectives are diverse, they're also bound by a contrary uniformity: All of them are American, and primarily middle- or upper-middle-class. Does this detract? A little. But the voices are strong, and they add up to an enjoyable — sometimes tender — night of theater.