Dorothy Fortenberry's world premiere, Mommune, spirits us to a not-too-distant future where women get national maternity leave and unfit mothers sidestep prison with sentences at minimum-security re-education centers. Chalk Repertory Company's site-specific approach transforms a contemporary kids learning center into one of these cheery gulags and audience members into "pre-parents," shepherded through their government-mandated pre-conception counseling requirements. The failures of these "bad mothers" are real enough; several are ripped-from-the-headlines accounts of poor parenting. The distrustful Charlotte (Hilary Ward) arrives at the "mommune" fresh from her high-stakes lab research, and immediately butts heads with "momtor" Mrs. Jensen (a regal Ursaline Bryant). Her fellow inmates -- a lesbian Christian, a former pageant queen and a voluntary mute -- aim to rack up enough points for "assessment" and eventual reunion with their children, but Charlotte's antagonism and refusal to follow simple rules challenges the intended day-spa atmosphere. The actors mine the satire for laughs, but Larissa Kokernot's deft direction points to the self-punishing tragedy behind the cult of mommydom. The play's steady pacing loses focus toward the end, although Fortenberry's setup doesn't lend itself to easy answers. The cast's engagement with the space is ingenious, but audiences should be prepared to relocate and stand through parts of the show.
Saturdays, Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: March 2. Continues through April 7, 2013

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