You don’t have to be the mother of a budding soccer star to enjoy Stillspeaking Theatre’s latest offering. Still, San Marino’s professional theater couldn’t have picked a better play for the community which surrounds it than Kathleen Clark’s Secrets Of A Soccer Mom. My guess is that the carpool set will love it. After all, even this single male reviewer with no particular interest in raising children, playing soccer, or watching children play soccer had a fine time getting to know its three title characters.

We get our first glimpse of Nancy, Lynn, and Allison (40, 30, and 20something respectively) doing their household chores to a background of rock music until a child’s cry, “Mom, come on!” interrupts their labors, and its off to soccer they go. 

Today, it’s the moms against the kids, and Allison for one is not about to lose the game and face public humiliation.  Nancy takes a more relaxed point of view. “This is about the kids having fun, not about us going for the goal,” she says, and Lynn agrees. It’s Sunday afternoon, they’re just kicking the ball around. It’s not the Superbowl. Besides, adds Lynn, she’s brought her PTA stapling along to keep her busy.  

As you might guess, since this is a play and not a soccer match staged inside a theater, most of the moms’ time today will be spent on the sidelines, chatting, cheering on their kids, trading gossip, getting to know each other better. 

Though all three moms would seem to be living the good life, not everything is right in suburbia, as we realize when Allison asks Lynn if she wouldn’t mind watching her kids for her next week … for the whole week.  It’s not that Allison is sick, at least not physically. “I just have to get away,” she tells her friend. It turns out that a random construction worker’s comment (“What’dya need?”) has started Allison to asking herself exactly this question, and now she realizes the time has come to change her life.  She’s told her friends that her husband is too busy at the office to come to the game today, but when Allison is out of earshot, Lynn tells Nancy she’s heard rumors that hubby Ron may be too busy with something else (or should that be someone else?) to show up at the game.  

Meanwhile, Nancy has her own frustrations at being a soccer mom. Yes, she loves her kids (despite her tough exterior), but deep down she misses the life she used to have as a catalog and hand model.  These days she’s trying to do something with her photography, she tells her fellow moms, information which comes as a surprise to Lynn, who’s never seen a single picture taken by Nancy. (It turns out Nancy’s taken roll after roll of film, but hasn’t had the self-confidence to get even a single roll developed.)  

Lynn too had a life before soccer motherhood.  Though these days she’s the textbook alpha mommy, and quite intimidating to her fellow soccer moms, she was once a social worker, she tells her friends. This is news to Allison who exclaims, “I didn’t know you were anything!” 

Lest the above summary make it appear that Secrets Of A Soccer Mom is serious Drama with a capital D, i.e. a staged version of a Lifetime Movie For Women, fear not. Playwright Clark’s comedic gifts keeps the laughs coming, as when the women comment on the way the other soccer moms are dressed. (“What’s this one trying to remember? Combat?”)  Nancy, in particular is a hoot—so into winning that when she scores a goal, her attitude is so what if she kicked one of the boys?  The women are very funny too as they compare sex lives, especially when it turns out—to the surprise of the other two—that one of them gets busy with her hubby two or even three times a week!

Ultimately, Secrets Of A Soccer mom is about friendship, about the joys and frustrations of marriage and motherhood, and about being true to the person you once saw yourself as becoming. It’s also extremely well-written, and as directed by Donald Shenk, beautifully acted.

Lynn is played by Tammy Taylor, who put her teen-actress career on hold twenty years ago (she was once Days Of Our Lives’ Hope Williams) to raise a pair of kids, a parallel that makes it no wonder her performance rings true. Taylor brings a perky energy and an inner grit to the part in an utterly engaging performance.

As Allison, Michelle Coyle gets the plum assignment of playing a young wife and mother with a marriage that’s already lost its initial glow, a husband who may be cheating on her, and a mad infatuation with her kid’s gym teacher.  She’s wonderful in the role, funny and poignant and entirely likeable.

The richest assignment goes to Jennifer Lynn Davis, so good as Mae in the recent Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  Davis’s Nancy is the tallest and (outwardly) the toughest of the three moms, but in some ways the most frustrated with her life, perhaps because she’s been at it the longest.  Nancy has a great monolog in Act Two about a vacation memory, the dreams it inspired (“I want to be naked and in the water and speaking French!”), and the perspective she’s gained on “learning to live with the choices you make in life.”  Davis’s performance is funny, touching, and multi-layered indeed.

Shenk has staged Secrets Of A Soccer Mom to take full advantage of scenic designer Tiffany Lynn Williams’ ingenious Astroturf set, which slopes steeply down from the raised stage, giving the three actresses quite a workout running up and down.  Three large empty gold frames hang in front of a strip of blue sky in the background as we fill the frames in mentally with the gradually sharpening pictures we get of the moms. Williams’ lighting design is equally fine, as is Peter Bayne’s realistic sound design, with the shouts and laughs of a weekend kids vs. moms soccer match.

Secrets Of A Soccer Mom could well turn out to be Stillspeaking’s biggest hit yet. Word of mouth among the soccer mom set should be excellent, with many paying return visits with friends in tow.  Get the word out. San Marino, the soccer moms have arrived!

Still Speaking Theatre, 2560 Huntington Drive, San Marino.

–Steven Stanley
September 13, 2009

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