Mary-Beth Manning is a remarkable actor. Her Irish-Catholic mother was a remarkable woman. And character. The two meet head on in Ms. Manning’s one woman show “Mother – she’s with you wherever you go” being presented at IATI Theater as part of the NY Int’l Fringe Festival.
It’s a show filled with quirky family and famous people stories (Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Mayor Koch, Alicia Alonzo) that linger long after you leave as the depth of her affection and deep love for her opinionated mom, despite their ups and downs, has a surprisingly emotional, personal effect on you.
Extremely well written, created and performed by Ms. Manning and directed by Roma Maffia, “Mother” is a sometimes hysterical, sometimes lyrical and altogether wonderful retelling of their relationship from age five till death did them part. Between the tears and heart wrenching humor Ms. Manning, alone on a bare stage except for one solitary chair, brings to vivid life her life with Joanie her mom, a mom with a tough veneer and a heart of gold and Ray her dad who would blow her a kiss every morning to be used later on and a host of other characters which include a wry therapist and a pseudo psychic. Even after death mom is close at hand.
Ms. Manning is bright and charming and quite attractive bringing to mind a young Blythe Danner whose daughter is Gwyneth Paltrow – another mother/daughter duo.
She commands the stage and you are riveted to her for 85 minutes of incredible story telling. With Bostonian accent for mom intact, she becomes Joanie – gesturing, posturing and advising. And Mary-Beth a child afraid to be herself, fearing she would never fit in.
It is her mom’s sage advice that Mary-Beth seeks throughout her bi-coastal quest for stardom and a man who isn’t an alcoholic. Her mom has two sides: the nice and the mean and we see them both on display as Ms. Manning connects 100 percent with her audience. Her body language is a prime asset as she portrays the shy Mary-Beth and the outgoing, feisty woman who when stricken with cancer plows ahead not willing to give in as she becomes a fragile shadow of herself with her quick comebacks still coming on loud and strong, remaining indestructible until the end.
I defy anyone not to be moved by this incredibly poignant relationship and the original, refreshing way in which it is told. “Mother – she’s with you wherever you go” will remain with you wherever you go.
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