“Mother” at Elephant Stages

Studio Stage Theatre at Elephant Stages


Mother, the word conjures up many images; some good, and some you rather not remember. Actress Mary-Beth Manning gives a little bit of both scenarios in her one-woman show. “Mother, She’s with you wherever you Go…” and isn’t that the prophetic truth. It doesn’t matter if you’re six-years-old or a grown woman with a brood of your own, mother, mom, mama, moms sneaks into your insides, your personality, then, the next thing you know, her voice is coming out your mouth. That’s the power of Mother.  She gets you when you’re not looking and then POW! She swoops in. Manning does an excellent job displaying both sides of the coin. The sweet, accommodating but worrywart of a daughter who both worships and cringes toward her mother Joanie. And, the mother who wants nothing but the best for her daughter and encourages her to pursue her dream of acting.  Manning grew up the youngest of five kids in Massachusetts, on the outskirts of Boston.  She was shy around boys and effortlessly went between herself and her aggressive but endearing mother whom she dubbed ‘the other lady.’

After seeing the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music,” starring Oscar winner Julie Andrews, like many little girls Manning aspired to be the next great talent. Manning took ballet and jazz dance classes. All was well until her evil classmate and dance bully Cynthia Hardigan made her life a living hell.  Manning’s big break came in 1978 when she played the daughter alongside Academy Award-winner Joanne Woodward in the television movie “See How She Runs.”  Her mother Joanie and younger sister Chrissie flew down to New York for Manning’s debut. “It was a magical night,” she recalled. Her mother, she and Chrissie were at the Lincoln Center and best of all Paul Newman, Woodward’s husband, dropped in. And yes, Manning answered her star struck mother, his eyes are that blue. Manning is living the high New York life she’s only read about in magazines. She did her first movie, Joanie and baby sister Chrissie are in awe and things can only get better. A lot was going on for the Massachusetts transplant. She went out with an alum from Yale University who became an investment banker and taught Manning how to knock back a few, or a dozen or so, cocktails, she found help with Morrie, her therapist to help her figure out the craziness that’s going on, all at the ripe age of 21 where nothing is impossible.

As Manning lives it up, she learns that Joanie has cancer and immediately returns home. You would think that Manning would find her mother in her bed, resting or taking whatever amount of pills she needed to subdue the pain. No such thing.  Joanie was up and around attending to her usual business. Mother tells her daughter all she needs to do to beat this thing was eat a generous supply of broccoli and anti-oxidants. Even at the end, Joanie was a trooper. Still advising her daughter, “Never let them know you’re scared” and most importantly “If it isn’t fun, don’t do it.” That sounds right.

I have this warning, if you are able to keep your eyes dry throughout this 90 minute performance, then you just didn’t get it. Manning finally has it out with her mother and the flood of tender emotions come spewing out like a volcano. Manning strikes a raw nerve in many of us who have a sore relationship with our mothers. She bares it all, the emotions, the painful words and the tears.

This is one of the best one-woman shows I’ve seen in a long time. I was crying, got choked up but most importantly, the story clicked with me and that’s what Manning does. She gets you to not only feel what’s going on but takes you back to when you first felt it. That’s a brilliant piece of work. Her ability to flow back from insecure little girl Mary-Beth, to adult Mary-Beth battling with her mother Joanie, is a marvel to watch. She makes the transformation look so easy and believable. The actress fluidly channeled her pain in the ass mother and in return made her child a stronger woman, with a wicked sense of humor, and an excellent performer. Kudos to mom and her military-esque antics because it made Mary-Beth a bright star.

Mother, She’s with You wherever You Go runs Fridays only until August 13, at 8 p.m., with no intermission, at the Studio Stage Theatre at the Elephant Stages located at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. (Santa Monica & 1078 Lillian Way) For ticket information call (323) 960-7714 or reserve online at www.plays411.com/mother