Yo Hot Mama(s)!
nytheatre.com review by David Vining
July 14, 2009
There's certainly no lack of mamas in Yo Hot Mama(s). Though billed under one title, this is actually two solo shows linked only loosely by theme and a cute name. In the first show on the bill, "Yo Mama(s)," the titular mamas are the three women who helped raise playwright/performer Natalie Kim. In "Hot Mama Mahatma," writer/performer Karen Fitzgerald is the mama in question, and yes, she's feeling pretty sultry, if you know what I mean.
In "Yo Mama(s)," Natalie is, we eventually learn, conflicted about moving in with her boyfriend. She can't figure out why, since she loves him, so she endeavors to tackle her complicated past. This means exploring the influence of her three (yes three) Mamas. She gives entertaining and slightly disturbing impersonations of her three moms. These are inspired first by a failed stint with a psychotherapist and then by a visit to a Buddhist meditation retreat.
Kim seems to have the type of spunky attitude that gets her into trouble in real life but is fun to watch on stage. I only wish we got to see more of that spunk in this show. When it does show through, either in her bittersweet takes on her various moms, or her initial disdain and eventual acceptance ("I'm ready for inner peace motherfuckers!") of the "pasty, white Jewish Buddhists" on her "Chinese" retreat, the show comes to life.
Ultimately, however, these glimpses of personality cannot overcome the clumsy structure of the piece (which includes a voice from the booth spurring her to "go deeper") and the lack of fluidity and direction of the piece as a whole. Though the arc of the story is at times both funny and touching, the potential power of the piece is lost along the way amongst the awkward stops and starts.
"Hot Mama Mahatma," the second piece of the evening, by contrast, finds its rhythm right away and zooms amiably to the end. Writer/performer Karen Fitzgerald has an easy assured presence on stage and her story flows out of her with humor and candor. She tells of her unexpected sexual awakening while looking for fresh start in India.
Similarly to "Yo Mama(s)," "Mahatma" is trying to make sense of the present by decoding the labyrinth of the past. Exotic locales and beaus aplenty tempt Fitzgerald as she fights off memories of nuns and ex-husbands. She tries desperately to listen to herself, chakras and all. Her smooth, simple, and confident delivery is tribute to Matt Hoverman's experienced hand as director and self-described midwife of solo shows.
Fitzgerald shows vivacity, vulnerability, and some pretty serious chops as a performer. Her experience shows in some of the more uncomfortable moments in the show. Her embarrassment, shock and amazement as her hips gyrate and her body awakes "down there" is a joy to watch. It also amply shows Fitzgerald's climb from Catholic school childhood to unhappy marriage to divorcee to wannabe sexpot.
Both of these stories are about taking control of your own destiny, and in a bare bones festival setting such as this, that's exactly what you have to do onstage as well. Kim, like her alter ego Natalie, tries to skirt the issue for much of the play. Fitzgerald makes it her own by using the best resource available—herself.