There's a trend in contemporary theater in which an actor/writer/director in the midst of an existential crisis--oftentimes based in his/her having plateaued in the theater world--decides to write a play as a healing exercise. The finished product is the story of writing the play you are watching, staged in ultra-dramatic fashion where even the most-mundane commentary is imbued with philosophical significance. It is the epitome of the vanity project.
Such a play is Questions My Mother Can't Answer, which opened May 5 at Boise Contemporary Theater and runs through Sunday, May 13.
The play opens with auteur Andrea Caban acting out a Skype conversation with one of her interview subjects in which she admits she doesn't even know why she's writing the play. Then she steps out of that conversation to tell the audience that she does: She was hit by a taxi in New York City. Though uninjured, Caban eventually fell into a deep ennui with elements of survivor's guilt. To get her groove back, she began interviewing women in their 60s about life and love, all the while dodging phone calls from her mother inquiring about her welfare. Those interviews and Caban's trajectory among them make up the play.
Caban deftly maneuvers through mannerisms and accents, even adopting different walks for the many characters she portrays. It is a fantastic and dynamic performance, but for this sort of play to work, audiences must empathize with the narrator. And whenever Caban drops back to herself, she just seems whiny. Her biological clock is out of batteries. Her job is unsatisfying. Writing a play is hard.
Eventually she talks to her mother and learns a thing or two.
But through it all, there is little on the line dramatically for the central character, other than not finishing the play. The other characters she portrays don't do much to contribute to a central plot, they just offer up anecdotes intended as life lessons. If there is a larger realization to be reached at the end of the play, it's somewhere along the lines of, "Suck it up and always remember your mom loves you. The rest will come eventually." That makes the play as a whole somewhat frustrating, even with the strength of the acting.
Questions My Mother Can't Answer is best described as a play fit for the Lifetime network. If that is your thing, grab your mom and run down to BCT to catch it before it closes on Mother's Day. If not, save yourself the trip. But don't forget to call your mother.