In Mother Words

Simple staging and spirited acting grace this series of vignettes about motherhood. Conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein, the string of separate playlets by more than a dozen writers, including Beth Henley and Theresa Rebeck, gains unity in the hands of director Lisa Peterson, who arranges the material into thematic blocks. (Jan Hartley's projection design and Emily Hubley's animation design effectively move the story forward during scene transitions.) Bookended by stories about new moms and seasoned matriarchs, the smart material covers a pleasing variety of parenting terrain, from a mother parting with her war-bound son in Jessica Goldberg's "Stars and Stripes" to a male couple searching for a surrogate in Marco Pennette's "If We're Using a Surrogate." Though the four actors — Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Jane Kaczmarek, James Lecesne and Amy Pietz — perch on chairs in front of podiums much of the time, their collective connection with the material renders the staged-reading format a barely noticeable factor. Comedy underlines much of the show, but David Cale's "Elizabeth," a glimpse into the early stages of dementia, and Claire LaZebnik's "Michael's Date," which lays out a mother's dashed hopes for her autistic son, tug hard at the heart. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through May 1. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 23. Continues through March 27, 2011