by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton · August 17, 2014
Melinda Buckley wrote and stars in Mother, a tour-de-force one-woman show about her relationship with her immigrant mother, whom she describes, as her "Hungarian Mama Rose."
Buckley crafts deeply personal material into a very funny, very sad, very beautiful elegy for her mother as she slips into dementia, going back and forth through time to describe their relationship, which has at its emotional center their attachment to music, dance and performance. What could seem like sentimentality in a lesser performer comes here from a source of deep emotion and authenticity.
Buckley's mother's dementia and dying took place over many years, and Buckley shows us how she herself ages throughout this process. The audience surrounding me was made up of mostly middle-aged women. Most of us were laughing and crying along with Buckley, as she navigated the terrain of 'assisted living,' the loss of a husband, an estrangement with her brother and the gradual, inexorable loss of her mother.
Buckley's relationship with her mother was not without its darker sides, and this is not a sentimental gloss on mother-daughter relationships. However, she maintains a humor - a humor earned through hard-won experience - and a lightness that can only be found only in those who have walked through darkness.
My one quibble with the way Buckley (and presumably her director Christine Renee Miller) chose to craft the material, especially because she does have musical-theater skills (she is a Broadway performer who has worked with the likes of Bob Fosse), is that I wish she had perhaps done a little bit more with song and dance. The bits of this they did add throughout the show were to great effect. After certain numbers (which I call 'numbers' because Buckley and Miller shaped even 'straight' bits to work like musical numbers), the audience spontaneously applauded. Finally, at the end of the show, much of the audience gave Buckley a standing ovation, which surprised her, but was well deserved.
Anyone who has ever cared for an ailing relative, partner or friend with dementia, or lost a parent with whom they had an enmeshed relationship or had to deal with the Kafka-esque nightmare of health care for those without a lot of money will connect with Buckley in a personal way. For anyone interested in how to craft a gorgeous show from deeply personal even raw material, this show is a must-see.
As a minor disclaimer, I do know Buckley as an acquaintance, but we have never worked together nor have I ever seen her work until now.