Mother

Writer-performer Mary-Beth Manning’s mother, Joan, was a loving, mercurial and idiosyncratic woman, whose rapid mood changes sometimes bewildered her impressionable young daughters. The youngest of 15 children from a blue-collar Irish-American family, Joan — and her husband Ray, Mary-Beth’s father — grew up, married and reared their family in a small Massachusetts town. Lively and well-crafted, Manning’s show pays tribute to her mother’s expansive spirit, chronicling their complex relationship, from her own kindergarten years — when her parent loomed large and intimidating — through adulthood, when, as a struggling actress in New York and L.A., she still spoke regularly to her mom about her career and her love life (a habit for which she sought psychiatric intervention). The play takes a more somber turn after Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer. Emerging from the shadow of a strong-willed, colorful and/or influential parent is common, in literature and in life; under Diana Castle’s direction, Manning’s storytelling gifts, her timing and sense of irony for the most part create an entertaining and involving solo show that transcends the ordinary, though its 100-minute length, without intermission, is a strain. The preponderance of some anecdotes, especially in the production’s final third, dilutes what we already anticipate as the story’s poignant climax. Imagined Life Theatre, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru October 3. (866) 811-4111.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Sept. 18. Continues through Oct. 10, 2009