, CurtainUp
The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Search Curtainup








NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
I Remember Mama

"Being rich is like being ten feet tall. Good for some things, bad for others".—Mama
Barbara Andres as Mama and Barbara Barrie as Katrin (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Ten women in their 70s play all the members of the Hanson family, all except two taking on several roles! No wigs or costumes! The story unfolds with the characters sitting around large dining room tables, each set with different props and representing a room in the Olson's San Francisco home! The lights on and dimmed only at at the end of each act!

The Mama of Jack Cummings III's revival of I Remember Mama is certainly not the one you're likely to remember. Depending on your age, that would be the 1940s Broadway hit, the TV series, or the still available DVD movie. Your memory of Mama Olson might even be based on John Van Druten's inspiration for his play, Katherine Forbes' fictionalized memoir Mama's Bank Account.

But if you've been following Mr. Cummings' Transport Group, you'll recognize this re-conceptualized, entertaining if a tad gimmicky approach as yet another example of the company's mission of "visually progressive productions of emotionally classic stories" that remain true to the the source script. The 2002 revival of Our Town also required the audience members to stretch their imaginations to buy into a sixty-something Emily and George and teen aged girl as the town manager. Transport's Hello Again in 2009 and Boys in the Band a year later had these new productions play out in large open spaces rather than typical theaters.

I Remember Mama as staged in Transport's current home, the Gym at Judson, certainly challenges its audience. Besides buying into the novel casting, viewers must connect the ten tables and the props they're set with to the character and plot elements, and see each as a room. (Since this audience is seated all around Dane Laffrey's scenery, they're free to examine the memorabilia on those tables close up before the show and during the intermission). The scenic set up expedites getting into the novelty of the casting. Still, the gray-haired Barbara Barrie as young Katrin the family chronicler, does take some getting used to; as does Heather MacRae as Nels, the role with which Marlon Brando made his Broadway debut.

But there's nothing cutting edge about this sentimental saga of a Norwegian immigrant family which, by dint of hard work and a nurturing "Mama," achieves the American Dream of having the kids with a good education and fulfilling lofty ambitions. However, while London Wall, another Van Druten play, works well in its traditional current revival at the Mint Company ( my review ), a similar take for I Remember Mama would probably come off as too hokey and dated. On the other hand, once you get past the initial shock of seeing this septuagenarian, all female, multi-tasking cast, you'll be rewarded with an enjoyable two hours of something old and still emotionally appealing made new again.

The actors, all seasoned performers, are terrific. They ably tackle all the roles, including the much younger characters and the male ones. Barbara Andres (who also played the teen-aged Emily in the above mentioned Our Town, captures the strength, determination and warmth of the matriarch.

Andres' Mama is the glue that holds this production and the Olson family together during its comic and more serious situations. She chairs the weekly session to deal with the family budget, supports her spinster sister Tricia's (Rita Gardner) claim to marital happiness and reigns in her mean-spirited sisters Sigrid (Susan Lehman) and Jenny (Alice Cannon). Mama also manages to get past hospital protocol to be at young Dagmar's (Phyllis Somerville) bedside after an emergency operation. When aspiring writer Katrin loses heart, leave it to Mama to find a way to help Katrin persevere and triumph.

Lynn Cohen can be forgiven for a bit of scenery chewing since she plays two of the showiest and most interesting roles: The outspoken alcoholic Uncle Chris and the somewhat mysterious boarder Mr. Hyde who enthralls the family with nightly readings from his vast collection of the books on his table— oops, I mean in his room.

Try to arrive early enough to check out the photo display of I Remember Mama's stage and screen history which includes a musical. You'll also want to take a close look at the photos of the actors since you won't get a program until the end (an increasingly common and rather annoying practice).

If you go out for a post show treat, don't expect to pay fifteen cents for coffee and an ice cream as Mama does when she takes Katrin for a treat. Her nickel tip is actually more than today's customary twenty per cent.

I Remember Mama by John Van Druten
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Cast: Barbara Andres (Mama), Barbara Barrie (Katrin), Alice Cannon (Aunt Jenny, Madeline, Bell Boy), Lynn Cohen (Mr. Hyde, Uncle Chris), Rita Gardner (Aunt Trina, Soda Jerk), Heather MacRae (Nels, Mr. Thorkelson), Susan Lehman (Aunt Sigrid, 2nd Nurse, Dorothy), Louise Sorel (Christine, F. D. Moorhead), Dale Soules (Papa, Dr. Johnson, Arne) and Phyllis Somerville (Dagmar, Jessie, 1st Nurse)
Scenic Design: Dane Laffrey
Lighting Design: R. Lee Kennedy
Costume Design: Kathryn Rohe
Properties: Alicia Bullen
Dramaturg: Kristina Corcoran Williams
Stage Manager: Theresa Flanagan
The Transport Group at Gym at Judson 243 Thompson St at West 4th St
From 3/16/14; closing 4/20/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 27th press preview
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of I Remember Mama
  • I disagree with the review of I Remember Mama
  • The review made me eager to see I Remember Mama
Click on the address link E-mail: esommer@curtainup.com
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add http://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail: esommer@curtainup.comesommer@curtainup.com
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@curtainup.com