Brownies’ moms fight while girls play
By Carol Davis
CORONADO, California — Confession: I still have my Brownie Pin. Yup! And I have my Girl Scout Pin and my Wings that were used to ‘fly me up’ from Brownie to Girl Scout. They are stored in a small wooden treasure box I put together and varnished in the arts and crafts barn of my sleepover camp days more years ago than I care to remember. Please don’t ask me why I still have them.
And as long as we are sharing, I was also a Brownie Leader when my oldest daughter was a Brownie. But Brownies in my day and when I was a leader never looked like Janece Shaffer’s one-act play Brownie Points now making a strong statement in its Southern California premiere at Lamb’s Players Theatre.
Here’s the setup. Brownie leaders Allison (Karson St. John), a stay at home mom, former attorney and major control freak and Sue, (Cynthia Gerber) the relaxed Midwesterner and token divorced mom and entrepreneur in her own right planned to take their Brownie troop on an overnight outing where the youngsters would experience roughing it, hiking, cooking and sleeping in tents outdoors. They would also be earning their cooking badge among others.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the sleepover. The other mothers of the other girls decided to come along. And this is where the story picks up. However, more than a camping experience for the girls, Shaffer’s play zeros in on the mom’s experiences. It explores their tolerances, class differences, (stay at home mom’s vs. working moms) and the cultures that separate them.
While offstage, the screeching and singing (in other words, happy little girls) Brownies are having a ball. They have none of the above issues since they figured it out by sitting next to each other in school, holding hands in line and working on projects in their Brownie troop together and I’m guessing going to each other’s homes is as natural as pecan pie.
Onstage, in and around the cabin located in the outskirts of Atlanta (Michael McKeon’s set is the inside of a cabin with giant trees reaching to the sky outside) the mom’s are creating their own havoc with assumptions, innuendos, accusations, finger pointing and just plain pettiness. Of the five mom’s, two are African American, one is Jewish, one is a single mom and the other has a child with special needs.
The play starts off pretty much looking like a small gathering of mom’s ready to give their daughters a great camping weekend. Erika Beth Phillips is the token Jew, rather condescending and a stay at home mom whose daughter Maya, we learn in a later scene, was made to participate in a public school project-making baby Jesus out of Popsicle sticks.
Nicole (Kaja Amado Dunn is spot on perfect in this role as she was as Benethea in Moxie’s Raisin In The Sun) is also a stay at home mom whose husband is an NBA player. She is one of the two African American moms on the trip who is friendly with Allison and seems to know a bit of her struggles with her physically challenged youngster. All four women are friends. Their children attend the same school and have known each other for some time.
They are all waiting for the last mom, Deidre, (Monique Gaffney) a successful surgeon and African American. All hell breaks loose when she bursts on to the scene like gangbusters about to take the house down carrying baskets of goodies along with her overnight suitcases and Louis Vuitton satchels. Coincidently that’s when the thunder and lightning begin indicating a storm outside. The storm inside came in with Deirde. (Patrick Duffy’s sound effects are more than convincing helped along with Nathan Peirson’s lighting) and lasts almost throughout the play.
Shaffer’s play or comedy as it is dubbed, is more about the racial and cultural differences of the adults gathered in this remote cabin in the outskirts of Georgia than it is about Brownies. In an interview in Arts & Culture in 2010, Shaffer is quoted as saying that … “living in Atlanta, it is inevitable that race becomes a part of your life, so I wanted to start a conversation about it.” She also goes on to say that it is the older or her generation, those caught straddling the fence, rather than the younger generation (those already enlisted) who are most ill equipped to deal with it.
The ninety-minute piece directed by Lamb’s long standing Associate Artistic Director Deborah Gilmour Smyth is one of many firsts for the Coronado Theatre. Several of the cast members, Gaffney and St. John are first time performers on this stage. Also this is about as much controversy as I’ve seen in this little corner of the world on these stages in some time.
The characters are long on anger and especially the way too over the top acting by Gaffney. While the others try to soothe her ruffled feathers and rein her in Gaffney’s Deidre is outraged because both she and the other black mom, Nichole were assigned to kitchen duty and she’ll be damned if they are going to put her back in the kitchen again serving whites. We learn only later of things that happened to her on the way to the overnight that put some light on her anger.
But the anger and disconnect among the mom’s is symptomatic of the larger picture of what’s really happening considering the history in and around their community. Lest we forget, it was in Georgia that the first and only Jew, Leo Frank, was hung on trumped up charges of rape and murder not that long ago and the resurgence of the KKK surfaced.
Racial prejudice reared its ugly head once again nanoseconds after the first African American president was sworn into office making Shaffer’s play about as current as it can possibly get without being sizzling hot off the press. This is a good opening for an audience dialogue, which it will most definitely do. However while the situations are real the setup seems too contrived and predictable in this ninety-minute seriocomic play.
Each of the women do earn ‘brownie points’ for pretty much staying in character and almost convincing us that some of what’s happening on stage is real anger, angst and relief but earning a friendship badge for these mo’s will take a bit more sit down time to make it happen. “Brownie Points” is a good starting place.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through May 27th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 1142 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: $26.00-$64.00
Short URL: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/?p=27001