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  • Theater, Comedy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Courtesy Daniel J Vasquez

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Helen Shaw 

Three moms, a dad and a nanny stand around at a Mommy-Baby Meetup, making loaded conversation. High-flying Vick (Jasmine Batchelor) is overworked and defensive in a room of stay-at-home parents; queen bee Ariana (Maechi Aharanwa) dominates with her rock-solid confidence and regal contempt for vaccines; diplomatic, indecisive Meg (Satomi Blair) tries to keep the peace between them. They’re nervous, bitchy, addicted to taking pictures of the kids: It’s recognizable, right? In its long first section, Anna Moench’s Mothers is tart and bristling satire. It accelerates into hilarity when white dad Ty (Max Gordon Moore) tries to chat with the central trio—all women of color—since they can’t help making the poor guy feel awkward.

Stop there and you’ve got one of the brightest comedies in town, but Moench is up to more than another satire about competitive mommyhood and casual racism. Little clues start to nag at the back of our minds. Why is the director Robert Ross Parker, cofounder of the action-theater group Vampire Cowboys? That seems suspicious. And what’s with the constant sound of airplanes, flying dangerously low overhead? There’s so much crispness and bite in Moench’s long first act that the smash-and-grab of the second comes as a wrench. Her vision turns dark, and then to pitch black. Ty’s funny first-act monologue about penis size turns out to be foreshadowing, and the much-ignored nanny Gladys (Tina Chilip) steps forward to rock, as it were, the cradle. Parker, Moench and the excellent cast handle the sharp turn into horror territory with a sense of increasing velocity. The thrill here, in retrospect, is how seamlessly the first part of the play becomes the other. Moench sees deep connections between the way we blinker ourselves in our children’s names and the catastrophe we are leaving them. She isn’t just talking to the breeders in the audience when she says: Stop being such a bunch of mommies all the time, and learn how to parent.

Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By Anna Moench. Directed by Robert Ross Parker. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

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Written by
Helen Shaw


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