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Foster Mom
These kids are lucky to have you. — Leslie

No, I'm lucky to have them. We all are. Children humanize adults. Keep us from becoming monsters. — Sophie

Foster Mom
L to R: Stori Ayers and Ariel Woodwiss (photo credit: Mike A. Peters)
In this new play now making its debut at Premiere Stages Chris Cragin-Day is only figuratively putting Leslie (Ariel Woodwiss) on trial. A single woman of 39, whose limited income is derived from free-lance writing jobs that allow her to remain at her own home has put the wheels in motion to be a foster mother. As the wheels spin, Leslie has to contend with her widowed mother Sarah (a full-of-life performance by Kate Kearney-Patch) who wants Leslie to marry and have a child of her own.

Nothing seems to pass by Sarah, most notably Josh (a personable performance by Kurt Uy) the entrepreneurial good-looking Asian-American in his late thirties who has been doing techie jobs for Sarah in her home. In no time flat she has engineered a date between Leslie and Josh. A romance blooms. Leslie, however, has decided not to share with Josh her plan to be a foster mom while she steamrolls ahead under the supervision of Sophie (a fine no-nonsense Stori Ayers), a highly dedicated and trained representative of the local foster care and adoption agency where she lives in N.J.

Mixed signals abound in this problematic play, mostly abetted by director Kel Haney. Hia staging creates questions about how and where we are meant to focus our empathy and concerns. This may also be due the play's conflicted perspective.

The playwright, herself a foster mom, has placed a lot of emphasis on the regular meetings between Leslie and Sophie. But our support for Leslie's presumed altruism is compromised throughout by a central character whose motive is muddled if not unconvincing. As a white middle-aged single woman, she doesn't want to see the issues of raising a child of a different race.

At its most compelling, the play also explores through Sophie many if not all the pitfalls and issues that need to be considered in taking in a psychologically fragile child who may have been abused and possibly malnourished. Undeterred as she is by her mother's misgivings and the fact that her romance with Josh is getting serious, Leslie seems side-blinded by her own priorities and incapable of seeing how her decisions will be affecting those around her.

Although the many challenges that Leslie will face are admirably expressed by the case worker, the questions we have about her more deep-seated motivation begin to pile up. As portrayed by Ms. Woodwiss, Leslie seems increasingly skittish and just barely grounded for the task ahead.

What gives the play a little punch, is Leslie's occasional attempt attempts to be closer to the mother with whom she has been only fitfully engaged since her father died. But if Leslie's goal is approval from Sarah, what does she expect from Josh when she finally gets around to telling him that fostering a child is her main priority? .

As it should, the play alludes to the generosity of spirit that leads someone to being a foster parent. To its detriment, it doesn't clearly explain why Leslie keeps Josh out of the loop until he finally confronts her with "You lied to me." The lack of physical contact between Leslie and Josh is as revealing as it is jarring. The contact we do see makes it hard to believe in their love for each other.

I do believe the playwright wants us to root for Leslie. But do we without also considering the challenge to Josh and Sarah that Leslie has unwittingly unleashed upon them? The jury is still out.

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Foster Mom by Chris Cragin-Day
Directed by Kel Haney
Cast: Stori Ayers (Sophie), Ariel Woodwiss (Leslie), Kurt Uy (Josh), Kate Kearney-Patch (Sarah)
Set Design: Jessica Parks
Costume Design: Sydney Maresca
Lighting Design: Brant Thomas Murray
Sound Design: Emily Auciello
Production Stage Manager: Dale Smallwood
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
Premiere Stages at the Zella Fry Theatre on the Kean University main campus Union N.J.
Performances: Thursday and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm.
: From 09/07/17 Opened 09/08/17 Ends 09/24/17 Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/08/17

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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