How We Used to Be

Larissa (Gretchen Mol) is a terrible person, though that is only gradually revealed in The Good Mother, Francine Volpe’s ironically titled new play currently running at the Acorn Theatre.  A former wayward youth, Larissa is now in her mid-thirties, single, with a child, and reinserting herself into the life of Joel (Mark Blum), her high school guidance counselor whose close relationships with his students borders on the inappropriate—in fact, he is in the papers at the moment for being accused of sleeping with one of his patients; Larissa, in turn, asks his son, Angus (Eric Nelsen), to babysit her autistic, four-year-old daughter, Allyson, and then accuses him of an unnamed crime—probably something sexual in nature, unlikely considering Angus is gay (and presumably not a pedophile).  Larissa is the type of person who is constantly in trouble but always manages to view herself as a victim of circumstance and the ill intentions of others, the type of person who you empathize with until you realize that she is a delusional liar.

The Good Mother showcases good acting but feels somewhat pointless.  There is nothing bad about it, but there is nothing especially good about it, either.  It is interesting to watch Larissa’s self-delusion repeatedly hit against reality, to watch her actions become more and more transparent to those around her.  But the end result is depressing and without much insight; it is a tragedy with no catharsis.

In an early, extended scene, Larissa brings home Jonathan (Darren Goldstein), a well-meaning trucker who kisses her arms, smokes in her living room, and keeps forgetting to take off his shoes.  It is one of the more awkward sexual encounters I have sat through in a theater, interrupted halfway through by the quiet entrance of Angus and ending with Jonathan repeating, “I want to make you feel good.  I want to make you feel good tonight.”  Later, Larissa tells Jonathan their night together was “somewhat of an out of body experience,” and, hurt, he replies, “I thought it was real.”  This is a perfect epitome of the play itself: eager but unsuccessful, marked by genuine attempts to please both itself and its audience, but sheepishly fizzling out instead of culminating in thunderous orgasm.

The Good Mother runs through December 22nd at the Acorn Theatre.  410 W. 42nd Street  New York, NY.

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