Mama drama with power chords

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Mama Metal Photo courtesy of Iama Theatre Company

Sigrid Gilmer isn’t one of those playwrights who warms up to an idea. She’s the kind of playwright who grabs you by the chest from the very first moments. The opening monologue of her world premiere play “Mama Metal” manages to:

  • Perfectly set the tone of the play.
  • Startle the audience
  • Place the production in a broader historical context
  • and tell Aristotle where he can stick his goddamn catharsis.

This is all done by the fierce, mercurial actress Courtney Sauls, a stand-in for the playwright who boldly announces that we shouldn’t “expect any bourgeois notions of catharsis, real emotion or psychological realism.” Instead “this play will unfold like a dream.”

Now part of that dream is familiar in the American theatre and Ms. Gilmer knows it. As she writes it’s a Mama drama. Think the mothers in O’Neill’s “Long Days Journey” and Williams’ “Glass Menagerie.” The playwright knows what’s come before and is so self-aware she writes in Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams as comic opening cameos. The play that evolves is on the simplest level the story of an adult daughter and her dying mother. It’s a story of debilitating illness, how the pain of the past shapes us, and how difficult it is to make sense of overwhelming emotions in a modern world. That part is familiar territory.

What you probably don’t expect is that all this is set against the sonic backdrop of heavy metal. Not only are the scenes punctuated by lip synced metal jams - there are four characters who play a sort of air guitar version of a stereotypical heavy metal band. The band serves as a sort of deranged quartet of fairy godmothers who offer our heroine advice on everything from dating to how to handle her sick mom.

As if this isn’t enough to get you going - there also two scantily clad boy toys called the orchids who serve as eye candy and fantasy fulfillment for our mother and daughter.

Now if it sounds like this is a bit much - it is … but in the best way.

While there are themes you’ll recognize, I guarantee you’ve never seen them handled like this. And while the heavy metal motif feels a little gimmicky at first as the play develops it feels like a no-brainer. If you’ve got a mom who’s dying in a nursing home and you’re stuck on hold with an insurance rep who’s giving you the run around - well, heavy metal feels like the absolutely perfect way to capture the emotional terrain and flip the world the bird.

Ms. Gilmer’s voice is unique and at the same time she’s breaking all the rules, she’s letting you know she knows she’s doing it and more importantly why. That’s a gift to the theatre and her audience.

Here’s the only bad news about “Mama Metal” it only plays through this weekend - so drop what you’re doing and book tickets - you won’t regret it. And you might want to queue up some choice metal cuts for the drive home.

“Mama Metal“ plays at the Iama Theatre Company in Atwater Village through this weekend.