Mothers of Invention
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 12, 2006
Working mothers can be portrayed in the media simultaneously as heroes and villains. Ads, talk shows topics, and magazine articles seem to put forth the message that as much as women may achieve outside the home, their children will suffer as a result. Add class prejudice against working class women and you have a schizophrenic stew that's a perfect theme for a one-person show to explore. In Mothers of Invention, Laura Poe brilliantly and hilariously brings to life six women who are all engaged in this debate.
One is Jackie Prescott, a recent widow and mother of four rambunctious boys. She is desperately trying through in-vitro fertilization to have a girl. She is also a potato farmer and thanks to a new genetically altered crop called Happy Sunshine Potatoes, invents "Ka-Ching" potato chips, a snack food that induces feelings of euphoria and well-being. Her new product is a great success until a recall is announced due to the chips' reportedly addictive nature.
Louann Dewdrop, a down-on-her-luck woman with a sick mother, a death-metal-music-blasting son, and a paint-thinner-drinking husband, has come to rely on these chips for emotional support. She finds herself in the midst of a class action law suit ( "It's where people of class sue each other," she explains to her mother) and with a chance to be on television.
She is manipulated by Darlene Love, a literally evil woman who has clawed her way to the top of corporate food giant Ameri-Veg. Love gives infomercial style pep talks to employees at Ameri-Veg about the importance of creating ad copy for their product Intellichips ("The intelligent chip that makes you intelligent!") that will cause children to emotionally blackmail their parents into buying them. Parents go along with it because the chips do raise their kids' test scores, even though it causes insomnia. But, as Love says with a camera ready smile, so does a cup of coffee.
Love and Prescott are invited on the "Mary Queen Show" (an intentional dead ringer for Larry King) to face off against each other and defend their products. Also voicing their opinions are Tina, the tanned, busty, blonde host of a daytime talk show, and Louise, from "Living With Louise," a brunette Martha Stewart clone. How does Poe pull off all these physically diverse characters? Using video segments edited by Rich Guerzon, Ed Roland, Gray Miller, and Josh Kanuck, we see Tina extolling the wonders of fruit that make your legs grow longer; Louise, in one of the funniest moments, push her product, Sheese, cheese made from human breast milk (my favorite, Prov-alone, made by single moms); and Mary Queen, with peal earrings and a receding hairline, moderating between them. There are also great cartoon commercials for Ka-Ching potato chips and Intellichips, animated by Molly White.
This gives Poe time to change into the Prescott, Dewdrop, and Love characters we see on stage. We root for Prescott, a down-to-earth woman trying to make a go of her business to support her family; we feel for Dewdrop trying to hold it all together when Love calls her trailer trash on national television; and are terrified that people like Love may in real life exist. Kimmy Gatewood, the director, makes all the action flow seamlessly from video to stage and back. In the play's program, Poe lists herself as the writer, producer, costumer, and set designer. She is truly a mother of invention herself and deserves much applause.