Writer-performer Bellina Logan was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of a British-born Caucasian woman and an African-American man. Her play is titled Confessions of a Mulatto Love Child, but its central character isn’t Bellina so much as it is her mom, Averil — a spirited and decidedly non-commonsensical person whose eccentricities are the fount for the show’s dynamic.
Though her parents, both actors, had a wild passionate affair, they never married, and Bellina was raised by her single mother in comfortable circumstances, abetted by a very proper, admonishing British nanny, Betty (“a cross between Angela Lansbury and Bette Davis”), without whom Averil seemingly could not manage. It was the ’60s, when interracial hookups and unmarried pregnant women raised more eyebrows in urban centers than they do now, and Bellina’s café au lait complexion was conversational fodder and a show-and-tell opportunity for her older sisters.
Throughout Bellina's childhood, she, Averil and Betty (her much older sisters were then in college) flitted among various locations: London, New York, Los Angeles, even Ibiza, whose scenic beauty the restless Averil soon tired of. For Bellina the child, Averil’s free-spirited and uninhibited behavior could be intimidating, and Logan re-enacts recollections of her mother and her best friend slapping their rears as they danced wildly to “I Will Survive,” celebrating their sensuality and womanhood as their young daughters stood by, their adolescent rebellion upstaged.
Later, when Bellina was grown, Averil developed an attachment for cats so manic that it once almost threatened to upend Bellina’s wedding. Eventually life’s tables turned and, as so often happens, Bellina became the responsible adult in her relationship with her aging parent.
Developed and directed by Maggie Soboil at the LGBT Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre, Confessions scores points foremost as a bittersweet play about mothers and daughters. At 90 minutes the piece lags here and there, but mostly it keeps up a respectable pace. Some of the anecdotes strain at the punchline while others aptly hit the mark. And anyone who’s dealt with a loved but obstreperous family member, regardless of gender, is likely to relate.
On the other hand, like so many ambitious solo shows, aspiration outruns execution. Logan plays all the characters in her story, but her transitions are not always as clear as they could be. Her lack of mastery of a British accent, used for both Betty and Averil, contributes to the impression of imprecision.
Desma Murphy’s spare set, with its intimations of faded elegance, fills the bill. But it would have been helpful to incorporate more lighting changes (design by Matt Richter) and accompanying video projections to embellish the narrative. There’s a truly wonderful photograph of Logan and her mom projected onto the backdrop at play’s end, and it would have added much emotional and textural ambience to have had more such projections, along with some images from the bygone decades that frame this family story.
Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., April 13-14 & May 4-5, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 6, 7 p.m.; $20. (323) 860-7300, lalgbtcenter.org/theatre.