Loading...
 

Theater Review - Mama knows best

Lila White is an exemplar of Southern eccentricity. She makes gourmet recipes of road-kill. She hobbles around on a cane festooned with sunflowers. She never throws anything away, and her cluttered South Georgia farmhouse features a coat that's been hanging on a hook since 1908.

??
Lila provided a treasure trove of stories and sketches for her daughter, writer Bailey White, who parlayed them into National Public Radio segments and a book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living. David Thomas, artistic director of Stone Mountain's ART Station playhouse, directs his world premiere adaptation of White's book, but transplanting White's stories from airwaves to page to stage was one step too many.

??
Bailey (Karen Howell) narrates the play's 18 episodes and the best ones convey her offbeat but tender bond with Lila (Judy Leavell). Leavell makes Lila a crotchety woman of unshakable convictions. One of the best segments illustrates the sharp contrast between mother and daughter: En route to a wedding, Bailey admires her fancy lipstick while Lila struggles to remove a tick from her pantyhose. But that's about as strong as the show's conflict gets.

??
White's source material provides an unerring sense of colorful comedic detail that fits perfectly on "All Things Considered." But as the ART Station adaptation goes along, the segments unfold in the same tone of bemused tolerance and become increasingly unsatisfying as a play. Mama offers a multitude of charming quirks, but it starves us of biographical detail for either woman. It's like sitting down to a meal and getting seven courses of dessert.

??
The production tries too hard to goose the humor for a live audience. Howell plays Bailey much more loudly and broadly than White's on-air persona, and while David Limbach portrays all the supporting characters — male and female — he primarily relies on his silly wigs for laughs. The play's script and Leavell's performance have charms, but Mama Makes Up Her Mind leaves you convinced that if you've heard one quirky tale of Lila's Dixie folkways, you've heard them all.

??
Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living runs through Aug. 14. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. ART Station, 5384 Manor Drive, Stone Mountain. $19-$25. 770-469-1105. www.artstation.org.