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Fringe review: My Three Moms

May 23, 2012

A few days ago, I was accosted by a Fringe patron I’ve never seen before. She wanted to know what’s good this year; I mentioned (among other things) Dance for Grandma, explaining that it revolves around a young man’s memories of his dearly departed nana.

She leaned in conspiratorially and chuckled. “Doesn’t it make you wonder where you’ve been when somebody can just get up and talk about their family?”

No, fatass; it makes me wonder where you’ve been. If drawing on one’s own family history for dramatic material is considered cheating, then I guess we’re going to be sending a whole lotta artists to the penalty box. (Hey, Tennessee Williams: How about working for a living?) And I suppose the terrific New York actor/playwright Virginia Bryan will be right there with them, since — according to the unique standard that’s apparently now being applied by some picky Pattys — she’s simply doing impressions of people she already knows.

In her one-woman show My Three Moms, Bryan plays all of the attendees at the Georgia funerals of three women who were instrumental to her upbringing: her birth mother, the aunt who raised her, and the black caretaker who took up the slack for the other two. Various other relatives are on hand to pay their respects — which, in true small-town fashion, means passive-aggressively digging up a bunch of old dirt under the guise of professing concern.

Byran homes in unerringly on the humor of a New York transplant being forced to drink once again from that uniquely Southern concoction that looks like sweet tea but is actually 100-proof venom. Then again, her Georgia relatives are only trying to help. They know she might be able to snag herself a “friendboy” if she’d just put that actin’ hobby on a back burner and start dressin’ a little better. Bless her heart.

As the tone shifts from the comedic to the nigh-on-tragic, Bryan distinguishes herself by the traps she avoids. Her portrayal of black characters comes off as keenly observed tribute instead of minstrelsy, and as a playwright, she rejects the easy impulse to look down on her down-home relations from a perch of metropolitan smugness. For all the dysfunction on parade, the play is headed toward a place of genuine healing — which is what elevates My Three Moms above simple mimicry and makes it theater. Or maybe even “theatre,” like those cute city folk call it.

(OK, Tennessee; you can come out of the penalty box now. But one more word about your goddamn sister … )



My Three Moms

Virginia Bryan – New York, NY


Show Schedule:

Friday 18 May; at 5:30pm in the Blue

Sunday 20 May; at 2:15pm in the Blue

Monday 21 May; at 7:00pm in the Blue

Tuesday 22 May; at 8:30pm in the Blue

Friday 25 May; at 7:00pm in the Blue

Saturday 26 May; at 11:15am in the Blue

Sunday 27 May; at 1:30pm in the Blue


Price: $11 + Fringe Button (good for entire Fringe)
Discount(s): Seniors/Students/Fringe Volunteers/Artists
Rating: G-14

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  • E K

    It’s possible, fool, that the Patron you so quickly judged as ‘fatass’, was commenting on how anyone could so easily expose their personal family history to the public.  Genteel people don’t, as a rule, do that.  Whereas actors can and do, in their own way of gleaning sympathy and notoriety.  It’s not that we all don’t enjoy it, it’s just that most of us keep our family tucked in that old dusty trunk in the attic. Most people should, and do, really keep their private lives, PRIVATE. Judge not…etc.

  • Steve Schneider

    It’s also possible that I correctly related the unmistakable meaning of what was said, which was that it’s somehow “easier” to use one’s own family as dramatic fodder — easier, I guess, than just “making stuff up” or whatever this person apparently thinks “legitimate” artists do. But thanks for fitting in the “judge not” while you were castigating actors for selling out their families in search of “sympathy and notoriety” — and all for the amusement of us more “genteel” types. “DANCE FOR US, MONKEY BOY!”

  • Dr. D

    Oh good Lord. E.K., I sincerely hope you are the patron who made the ridiculous remark, because I would hate to think that there are two of you running around out there.
    You are correct about one thing, though.  There are scads of “genteel people” who do not, as a rule, expose their family history to the general public. That is because these people ARE the general public, also referred to as: audience, art patrons, readers, listeners, etc. These “genteel people” do not need to plumb their personal depths to do their job well.  They sinply trudge through their lives day by day.  And sometimes, they want to listen to music, or look a painting, or read a book, or see a play, etc. These “genteel people” then rely upon an artist to expose something which can touch the mannerly soul of the common man. Good artists do this by turning their inner coal into diamonds for our enjoyment, and the best artists draw from what they know, because only the truth will actually touch the heart.
    Or go watch a sit-com.