Mother -- Theater Review

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"Two and a Half Men" is not generally considered the most sophisticated of situation comedies, but its level of wit is of Oscar Wilde proportions compared to "Mother," a new off-Broadway play that its star Holland Taylor has unwisely graced with her presence during its summer hiatus. Also featuring the great and too-little-seen Buck Henry, this meandering, would-be comedy by Lisa Ebersole is a sorry waste of its stars' talents.

The short but seemingly endless work takes place during a holiday family dinner at a West Virginia resort (the program includes a plug for "the lovely Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia!"). The dysfunctional participants include the crotchety Joseph (Henry), his long-suffering wife, Kitty (Taylor), and their grown children, Kate (playwright Ebersole) and Jackie (Haskell King).

To say that nothing happens in the course of the evening is an understatement. The blustery patriarch complains about the food, the service and everything else and at one point slips away and returns dripping wet after having fallen into a hot-water spring. The siblings bicker over such undeveloped topics as Jackie's affair with a married woman. And Kitty, for some reason, shows up for dinner without her shoes.

In an effort to create comedic tension, the playwright constantly has one or more of the characters leaving the table for one trumped-up reason for another, with the result being that the proceedings begin to resemble a game of musical chairs.

Other characters on display include a harried waiter (David Rosenblatt) and a veteran hotel employee (Keith Randolph Smith) who has a relationship with the family.

Taylor manages the neat trick of keeping her dignity in her underwritten role, and Henry scores a few minor laughs. But the most novel aspect of the production is the onstage seating for some audience members, who sit at cafe tables pretending to be other diners. Considering that their chances of escaping from the intermission-free show are nil, one only hopes that their drinks were comped.

Venue: Wild Project, New York (Through Aug. 1)
Presented by: Evill July Prods.
Cast: Buck Henry, Holland Taylor, Lisa Ebersole, Haskell King, Keith Randolph Smith, David Rosenblatt
Playwright: Lisa Ebersole
Director: Andrew Grosso
Producer: Andrew Cahill
Set designer: Sandra Goldmark
Costume designer: Becky Lasky
Lighting designer: Brian Jones
Sound designers: Daniel Kluger, Brandon Wolcott