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vancouverplays review


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— Patti Allan. Photo Credit: David Cooper

by Stacey Kaser & Alison Kelly
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
Oct. 9-25
$20-$45 or 604-270-1812

In Conversations with My Mother, Alison Kelly and Deborah Williams—two of the mothers who co-wrote and perform in the long-running, hugely successful Mom’s the Word franchise—play adult sisters who wrestle with their own mother’s legacy. Except in this case, mom’s the corpse. Well, she’s technically dead but her ghost is physically present enough to drive them just as crazy as she did when she was alive.

Co-written by Kelly and Stacey Kaser, Conversations with My Mother opens Gateway Theatre’s 30th season in an audience-friendly premiere production directed by Katrina Dunn. It’s a silly comedy with some serious issues.

Hyacinth (Patti Allan), the formidable matriarch of a family of women all named after plants, dies of a heart attack at the opening of the play. “Her only hobby was smoking,” observe her daughters. Hyacinth was a psychiatrist in life but she clearly could have used one herself. Allan plays her with great comic élan, chewing the scenery with glee. Who knew death could be so much fun?

But it’s not so much fun for the sisters. Lily (Williams) was mom’s disappointment, getting pregnant as a rebellious teen, having three kids, never living up to the “gifted” potential Hyacinth felt she had. Now Lily is pregnant again in middle age. And Hyacinth’s ghost still rides her: she’s too fat, she wears the wrong bras. Even as Lily gets dressed for mom’s funeral, the dead woman can’t resist criticizing her outfit: “Your breasts will sway like chandeliers on the Titanic!”

Heather (Kelly) is the sister who made good. A medical researcher turned entrepreneur, she’s a wealthy businesswoman with a profitable company. But childless in her middle age, she wants to sell her company and adopt. Mom’s ghost can’t stand it and rags her mercilessly.

But Hyacinth has her own issues that are keeping her a restless ghost. The picture of her mother, a successful doctor, hangs above the action, changing colours in response to the emotional temperature on the stage. This being a comedy, there will be healing and reconciliation across the generations at the end. The sisters won’t have to, as they threaten, send their old mom to a Home for the Undead.

The script is a little ragged but there’s a lot more to like about this show. Williams is delightful as Lily, Drew Facey’s clever set transforms a couch into a tent frame, and potatoes fall from the sky. Kudos to Gateway artistic director Jovanni Sy, who has taken a chance opening his mainstage season with an untested, locally written play.

Jerry Wasserman


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