A HOME FOR UNWED MOTHERS AT SKYLIGHT
REVIEW: LORD OF THE UNDERWORLD’S HOME FOR UNWED MOTHERS
BY RYAN LUÉVANO
Skylight Theatre Company’s latest world premiere play is Louisa Hill’s Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers, and once you get past the play’s lengthy title, what appears is a gripping and tender work that any mother or anyone that has a mother can so effortlessly relate.
Unwed Mothers presents dual stories about two mothers experiencing pregnancies in two different eras; what’s more these mothers are mother and daughter. Dee is a pregnant teen in the 40s who is coerced into giving up her newborn baby. Years later Corie, Dee’s twenty-five years old daughter, grapples with what to do with her own unplanned pregnancy. The mother and daughter struggle to reconnect in the second act searching for a way to find a place in each other’s lives.
This story offers an illuminating look into history when millions of young pregnant women were sent to maternity homes and forced to surrender their babies claiming it was the right thing to do. The first act is dedicated to Dee’s story presenting her life in a series of vignettes all part of a letter to her unborn daughter. Dee (Corryn Cummins) beautifully plays the idyllic teenage girl in a performance that is raw and compelling—all the audience sees is a scared little girl who wants to keep her baby. Her daughter Corie (Michaela Slezak) is the perfect foil to Dee. Corie is an emotionally crippled young woman who finds peace in the distorted and blaring sounds of heavy metal. Slezak’s aggressive mannerisms and acting style make apparent the strife she’s endured in her own life.
Director Tony Abatemarco handles the pacing of this play splendidly—all the action evolves naturally and steadily. Using only essential theatrical elements goes a long way for this piece. Adrian Gonzalez and Amy Harmony are expert chameleons acting as many characters throughout the play. With just simple change in costume these two “Chorus” members convincingly take on all the characters in Dee and Cories life making a cast of four seem much larger.
Hill’s play is held together with recurring themes stemming from religious ideas such as the story of Adam and Eve; salvation and damnation; gilt and shame, and good and evil. These religious themes are intermixed with metaphors that allude to nature, agriculture, seasons, and fruit. It is the intertwining of these two elements that gives this work its poetic intensity—suddenly everything is divine and has the capability to leave a sweet or sour aftertaste. Sure there are fleeting moments when you can sense the writer in the room, yet beyond this there lies a voice that’s fresh and daring.
Adding to expressive nature of Unwed Mothers the play is given a wistful musical score written and performed on solo cello by Marylin Winkle. The incidental music Winkle provides is theatrical and cinematic—clear musical ideas are associated with each character and action is accompanied with music that matches the drama at hand. The score, especially prevalent in the first act, uses lilting folk melodies with hints of Baroque style ornamentation and cadences—altogether a befitting score for the pastoral setting.
Visit the Skylight Theatre and support new theater works; this work in particular is proof that the future of theater is bright. Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers runs at 8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 3:00pm on Sundays through May 28th, 2017 at. Skylight Theatre. For more information and tickets: 213-761-7061 or online at skylighttheatrecompany.com