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A CurtainUp Review
The Good Mother

"Only a few of us get what we expect. But anyone anyone can be in debt for the rest of their life. . .you see? College is a racket. I didnít want to do that, participate in that. I wanted to be different. I wanted to do things differently. I own my own business. Did you know that? I did things differently. "— Larissa
The Good Mother
Gretchen Mol
(Photo: Monique Carboni)
There's nothing sinister looking about Derek McLane's design for Francine Volpe's play about a 33-year-old single mom's home in Mt. Vernon, a New York suburb. In fact, it's quite cozy, with a big circular couch, stuffed toys and glimpses of a leafy street outside. But Larissa (Gretchen Mol), who lives there with her 4-year old daughter (who remains unseen throughout the play), is not your typical suburban mom. It's not just that she's unmarried and that her child is autistic but that as quickly becomes evident, there's a lot of both pride and resentment in her confidences to the quiet young man who's apparently going to baby sit so she can go on a date.

Perhaps the word quickly is inappropriate to use for anything about The Good Mother. Filled as it is with long pauses during which nothing happens or is said, there's nothing quick about this psychological thriller — except that you rather quickly find yourself wishing Scott Elliott hadn't relied on these excruciatingly slow pauses to build suspense about what makes Larissa and the four men who at one point or another sit on that circular couch. Worse yet, Elliott sometimes blankets the stage in darkness so that you can't even observe the characters's facial expressions and body .

Volpe's drama, like her The Given and Late Fragments produced at Studio Dante, starts out intriguingly enough with Larissa simultaneously applying makeup for her date and prepping Angus (Eric Nelsen) the 19-year-old baby sitter about what to do and filling us in on her connection with him (he's the son of the psychologist to whome she was sent for therapy when she was twelve). By the time she leaves for her date, you have more than a hint that this isn't going to work out to her satisfaction.

To elaborate further on what happens would spoil any suspense about how Angus got to be Larissa's sitter, and the events following her date. And, yes, there is suspense as to what happens while Larissa is out on her date. There is also a mounting suspicion that while Angus, especially a portrayed by Nelsen, is not a very tightly wrapped young man, neither is Larissa all that relaxed a mom with solid coping skills. In lieu of detailing the oh so slowly unravelling psychological mystery (the snail's pace direction makes this more a case study than a thriller), here's a who's who of the other characters who show up in Larissa's home one at a time:

First up, is>Jonathan (Darren Goldstein), the trucker Larissa met in a local bar and who's immediately suspicious of Angus. Both Jonathan and Angus make return appearances. There's also Joel (Mark Blum) Angus's father, Larissa's shrink and mentor starting when she was twelve. Seems he's currently up on charges of inappropriate behavior with a young woman he's counselling which Larissa learned about through the local paper. He's actually the key to the mystery but as Mr. Elliott has unfortunately chosen those endless silent scenes to build the thriller atmosphere, he's also directed the always excellent Mr. Blum to to speak so low that the audience has to strain to hear what he's saying. Last on scene is Larissa's long-ago boyfriend Buddy (Alred Narciso) now a police sergeant hoping to make lieutenant.

The biggest asset of this production is the beautiful Gretchen Mol as the title character. Mol first impressed me with her acting skills ten years ago in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things. She's a compelling Larissa. If only the play she's in were more compelling.

The Good Mother by Francine Volpe
Directed by Scott Elliott
Cast: Darren Goldstein (Jonathan), Alfredo Narciso (Buddy), Gretchen Mol (Larissa), Eric Nelsen (Angus), Mark Blum (Joel)
Set design: Derek McLane
Costume design: Cynthia Rowley
Lighting design: Jason Lyons
Sound design: Bart Fasbender
Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes without an intermission
The New Group Acorn Theatre /410 West 42nd Street
From 10/29/12; opening 11/15/12; closing 12/22/12
M-T-W 7pm; Th-Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/10 press preview
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