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Review: A choppy 'Surviving Mama' at Edgemar Center for the Arts

October 17, 2012|By F. Kathleen Foley
  • Gina Manziello, left, and Arva Rose in 'Surviving Mama' at Edgemar Center for the Arts.
Gina Manziello, left, and Arva Rose in 'Surviving Mama' at Edgemar… (Eric Wade )

“Surviving Mama,” now in its world premiere at Edgemar Center for the Arts, is a frustratingly disjointed play that feels like a protracted examination of a stranger’s photograph album, snapshot by random snapshot.

In her program bio, playwright Sonia Levitin proudly proclaims that this is her mother’s story -– and to her credit, Levitin’s recapitulation is heartfelt, if overly peripatetic. The central character is Marlena, aka Mama (engaging Arva Rose), a feisty, funny character with a hectic history.

The action opens with Mama’s daughters, brittle, vinegary Stella (Sharon Rosner) and sweetly loyal Anne (Gina Manziello) discussing the sensitive subject of placing Mama in a retirement home. (Oddly, allusions to Mama’s infirmity and creeping dementia are belied by Rose’s general heartiness -– just one of several gaps in logic that director Doug Kaback fails to address.) 

Just when we thought we were in for a touching drama about elder-care issues, we are swept back to 1939 Berlin, where young Marlena (Manziello) makes a desperate bid to escape the country with her three young daughters and join her husband Gustav (Peter Lucas) in America. From there, the action jumps to Marlena and Gustav in the U.S., where, despite their increasing prosperity, their marriage devolves into bitterness and acrimony.

Throughout, Levitin fails to adequately synthesize her family drama, shoehorning anecdotes into the story without regard to the flow of action.  The cursory treatment of an unseen character’s offstage death is just one case in point, while Gustav’s weirdly extraneous monologue seems bafflingly interruptive and rambling. One can only wish that Levitin had kept the emphasis firmly on the charming character of Mama, sans so many unnecessary segues and distractions.

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“Surviving Mama,” Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica.  8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Nov. 18. $34.99. (310) 392-7327. www.survivingmamatheplay.com. Running time: 2 hours.

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