Playwright Sigrid Gilmer deals with a lifetime’s worth of mother-daughter issues in the most theatrically adventurous of ways in Mama Metal, the head-banging latest from IAMA Theatre Company.

Standing in for Gilmer is rule-breaking narrator/protagonist Sterling Milburn (Courtney Sauls), single, African-American, and in her own words “way over 30 years old and 25 pounds overweight,” and in case you’re wondering what the next hundred or so minutes have in store, Sterling announces from the get-go that what we’re about to see will have “no catharsis, no take away, and fuck whatever development-marketing asshole who came up with that phrase.”

What it will have is plenty of fourth wall-breaking, along with guest appearances by mama-drama masters Eugene O’Neill (Graham Sibley) and Tennessee Williams (Jamie Wollrab), a sassy Filipino caregiver (Rodney To), a misunderstood stepbrother (Chris Gardner), some muscular, man-of-color beefcake provided by Pink Orchid (Christian Telesmar) and Blue Orchid (Cesar Cipriano), a heavy metal band called Demonic Afterbirth (Gardner as CC Matson, Sibley as Bruce Henry, To as Jon Adam Webb, and Wollrab as Shane Siegel), and the wheelchair-bound Louise Belle Milburn, a mother in the grand tradition of O’Neill’s Mary Jerome and Williams’s Amanda Wingfield, who’s suffering from Lewy-Body Dementia with a bit of Parkinson’s thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and there will also be occasional snippets of heavy metal loudness along the way.

Anyone who’s dealt with an aging or infirm parent will find plenty to identify with in Mama Metal, including a series of frustrating telephone exchanges with “Tzar Temporal Insurance” regarding Mama’s cancelled policy, terminated because, as Sterling tells a series of company reps, “you guys send so much mail [and] I wasn’t as diligent as I use to be about opening the mail.” Oops!

And anyone who’s had parent issues they can’t manage to let go of will identify with Sterling’s childhood memory of the day Louise berated her body-odorous 11-year-old daughter, then made her take off her shirt in the very public bathroom of the Polynesian Cultural Center and scrubbed her pits “with that fucking pink powdered soap.”

As Mama Metal careens from present to past and back again, sharecroppers’ daughter Louise recalls a painful childhood involving a racist shopkeeper (Sibley) before delivering an eleventh-hour monolog that unfortunately overstays its welcome after the attention-maintaining theatrical thrill ride that has preceded it.

Director Deena Selenow deserves major snaps for her highly inventive, high-energy staging on scenic designer James Maloof’s Metallica concert-ready set (scaffolding, stacks of PA speakers, and spotlights galore) lit with abundant in-your-face flash by R.S. Buck.

A captivating Sauls commands attention from her first entrance as a young woman filled with resentment, rage, and a daughterly love that’s managed somehow to survive, and Sherman’s stunning Mama Louise takes us from clawed hands, tilted head, and blank stare to the abused child she once was and the difficult, complex woman she eventually became.

Demonic Afterbirthers Gardner (a sympathetic older half-bro), Sibley (a deliciously puffed-up Eugene O’Neill), To (paying delightful tribute to just about every Kaiser Permanente staffer you’ve met), and Wollrab (Tennessee Williams in all his decadent splendor) are all four fab.

Last but not least, Cipriano and Telesmar not only personify Chippendale’s-ready hotness and hunkdom, they are scrumptiously underdressed by Halei Parker, who scores just as many costume design points for Demonic Afterbirth’s metalwear.

Jeff Gardner’s feel-the-noize sound design is another winner as are Shen Heckel’s multitude of props, including oodles of pink pills and magenta origami balls.

Mama Metal is produced by Lexi Sloan. Camille Jenkins and Jeff Lorch are associate producers. Rachel Berney Needleman is associate director. Alina Goodwin is stage manager and Kimberly Sanchez is assistant stage manager. Sydnie Ponic is scenic assistant. Justin Huen is technical director. Casting is by Jordan Bass, CSA.

Understudies Sumerlyn Haynes, DT Matias, Garrett Mercer, Matt Mendoza, Jemar Michael, Kellan Rhude, Bryan Staggers, and chandra thomas perform on Thursday June 20 at 8:00.

Though it could stand a bit of a trim (see earlier comment regarding Mama’s monolog), following five consecutive IAMA winners (Species Native To California, Redline, Cult Of Love, American Hero, and Canyon), Mama Metal now takes that number up to six in a row, capping the ten-year-old IAMA Theatre Company’s most exciting two years to date. Mama would be proud indeed.

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AMA Theatre Company @ Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. Through June 23. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 7:00. Reservations: 323 380-8843

–Steven Stanley
May 23, 2019
Photos: Dean Cechvala


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