by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Linda Haston explores the nebulous relationship between a mother and daughter in the biographical, one woman show, “Mother Lode” written by Virginia Wall Gruenert.
Haston plays both Linda (herself) and her mother, Ruth. The ornery older woman is in a losing battle with dementia, while Linda struggles with the financial burden of caring for an aging parent on her own. Ruth also recants her life, and it’s equally riveting and revolting.
Side note: The shocking tale of the death of Ruth’s mother is horrifying.
The show is not just a showcase of Haston’s talent, but a deeply emotional story of two women discovering each other and themselves along the way. Haston sings, dances and wails with intensity. It’s a powerful night of theater. It’s also surprisingly funny. There’s a quote from the play “Steel Magnolias” that aptly describes the evening, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
Haston transforms from mother to daughter seamlessly. Of course, there’s one cliché in solo performances and it rears up on the top of the head here. Switching characters with a chapeau is definitely old hat. It’s the easiest way to silently telegraph to the audience the transformation is taking place, but Haston’s characters are so distinctive that directors Wall Gruenert and Spencer Whale could have left it on the hook. However, the co-directors wink at the cliché with a beautiful and moving moment at the end of the play with a hat box and a carefully placed bonnet.
Not long ago, playwright Virginia Wall Gruenert wrote “Without Ruth,” a play about Haston’s mother/daughter relationship based on a diary of the events. Gruenert added Norah (Adrienne Wehr), a health care worker who helps Linda navigate the system, and Abby (Diana Ifft), Norah’s childhood friend and sounding board. Though Wehr deftly handled the role of Norah, the secondary plotline was unnecessary. Gruenert streamlined the story, and “Mother Lode” is a distilled reimagining of “Without Ruth.” Simply, it’s “Without Ruth,” without the B storyline. It’s also a superior piece to the original work.
Kudos to set designer Adrienne Fischer for selecting a wide range of picture frames and photographs to cover the wall. The set is simple but adds another emotional layer, especially with assistance of lighting designer, Madeleine Steineck.
It’s a talented group of people who put together the show (almost all female, with the exception of co-director Whale and sound and music designer, Ryan McMasters), but the evening belongs to two women, Linda and Ruth, and the single actor who portrays them. Haston hits gold in “Mother Lode.”
(“Mother Lode” returns in June and August to the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here.)