The experience of being fully swept away as an audience member is beautiful. The experience of being simultaneously swept away and brought back to reality is even more outstanding. This is exactly what The Mamalogues, on stage now at 1st Stage in Tysons, accomplishes with its expert navigation of honest emotion and tongue-in-cheek satire.
The Mamalogues is a deeply creative, satirical piece that takes a stream-of-consciousness approach, following three women as they talk about parenting while being Black and middle-class in America. Playwright Lisa B. Thompson cleverly uses a framing device, setting up their dialogue as a part of a retreat for Black, middle-class, single moms, then engaging the audience in that premise. We are welcomed to the meeting by Lauren (Jasmine Joy Brooks), president of the BBSM (Bougie Black Single Moms), then meet Tasha (Deidra LaWan Starnes), former president and unofficial social secretary, and Beverly (Tamieka Chavis), a new member. From this introduction up until the closing moments, the actors smoothly transition into various vignettes and meander, sometimes somberly, sometimes in magnificent irreverence, through their experiences of parenthood and all the feelings it brings up.
The set (Jonathan Dahm Robertson) immediately evokes the retreat. It is a stunning, round stage that transports the audience to a spa or a hotel lobby, lined with warm wooden cubbies and circular walls that feel open due to their height. The set makes the eyes climb up to the greenery and lanterns that lie above, grounding the action in an inviting ambience. The show’s other lighting (Eric Pitney, Peter Leibold, Brittany Shemuga) is wonderful as well, not only highlighting the various vignettes, but playing beautifully off the set pieces, changing the colors of furniture and floors as the dialogue necessitates. Finally, props (Amy Kellet) and sound (David Lamont Wilson) are fabulous, working hand in hand with the actors to create all of these new experiences and memories.
Bringing these elements to life are actors Jasmine Joy Brooks (Lauren), Tamieka Chavis (Beverly), and Deidra LaWan Starnes (Tasha): a magnetic trio. Throughout the almost two-hour runtime, they keep the energy in expert flow. Not only do they demonstrate the vast, sometimes sudden emotional shifts in the thoughts and memories of their characters, but they also seamlessly change roles, becoming the acquaintances in each others’ memories, or even the future visions of their children. Their stunning ability to slip in and out of character shows their connection to one another as performers; they are with each other onstage in every way.
LaWan Starnes’s Tasha is charming and adventurous, challenging the characters onstage with her, always ready with a roast or retort that carries an underlying love or shows her vulnerability. Tamieka Chavis does transformative work with Beverly, relaying the character’s shy demeanor, but building her dry humor as the character comes more and more out of her shell. Brooks is simply remarkable as Lauren, imbuing the oh-so-perfect facade of the character with doubt and empathy, while still nailing every comedic moment and inventing some of her own. Each woman’s performance truly grounds the show, and as a result, they create an environment where the audience feels as present as the actors seem to be with each other.
Acting so exceptional as theirs allows us to fully invest, to be completely wrapped up in their stories. Brooks, Chavis, and LaWan Starnes engage so beautifully with the tongue-in-cheek humor and the play’s emotional impact that we are a completely captive audience. We can follow their stream of consciousness and understand it while not fully knowing what comes next. At the same time, their sharp comedic skills remind us always that we are an audience, showing us the boundaries of the play’s world and in doing so, causing us to think more deeply about how that world is in conversation with our own. It’s lovely work, giving the audience a portrayal of experiences to connect with, the honor of bearing witness, and the consciousness to think critically.
The Mamalogues achieves this feat, bringing the audience into a seamless stream of consciousness comprised of honest feeling, while reminding us with constant fourth-wall breaks and sharp satire that we are watching a play. It doesn’t just leave us with a window, a glimpse into the lives of its characters. It calls on us to reflect while we’re watching.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.
EXTENDED: The Mamalogues plays through May 15, 2022, at 1st Stage – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in Tysons, VA. Tickets ($50 general; $47 seniors 65+; $15 students, educators, and military) can be purchased online or by calling the 1st Stage box office at 703-854-1856. The first 20 tickets sold for every show will cost only $20. Thursday evening tickets are $35.
The playbill for The Mamalogues is available online here.
COVID Safety: Masks and proof of vaccination are required. Click here for details.