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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Mama's Boy

If Lee had just stayed home – home with his Mother, where he belongs, none of this ever would have happened. — Marguerite Oswald —
Mama's Boy
Betsy Aidem (photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
Monster mothers have been a staple of dramatic literature since the Greeks named one Medea. Reflecting on the damage done to children by compulsively needy, self-serving mothers in more modern plays as The Silver Cord by Sidney Howard, Gypsy by Arthur Laurents and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, we glimpse only a tip of the matriarchal iceberg. Whereas the above are somewhat remote biographical and fictional examples of motherhood gone off the rails, the central character who presides over Rob Urbinati's new and gripping play Mama's Boy is perhaps the most insightful portrait of manipulative motherhood in recent times.

Marguerite Oswald is the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, the young man accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Urbinati's play provides us with his speculations (based on reports) about the love-hate relationship between Marguerite and her youngest son Lee. As played by a brilliant Betsy Aidem, Marguerite is a relentless dynamo, the proverbial steel magnolia. Through two absorbing acts, she is a feverishly motivated woman with a mission.

That mission begins right after Lee's murder soon after his arrest. The play opens as Marguerite, carrying a large briefcase, appears before an audience in Town Hall, New York City, where she feels compelled to present a compassionate portrait of her son. This also shows Marguerite's own speculations (what she calls evidence) that will implicate the US government and the FBI in the assassination.

While the play is framed by Marguerite's impassioned address to the audience with questions supplied by an unseen interviewer (Boyd Gaines), the remainder of Act I regresses to 1962 and Fort Worth, Texas where Lee (Michael Goldsmith) has just returned from three years in the Soviet Union with his wife Marina (Laurel Casillo) and their infant child. Marguerite is not openly hostile toward the pretty red-haired Marina, but her brittle comments and barely concealed condescension indicate her disapproving attitude toward this woman whom she perceives as a rival for her son's affection. It's easy for us to see how conflicted a son Lee is, as bits of exposition provides us with the reasons why Marguerite's other two sons, the married Robert (Miles G. Jackson) and John (unseen) are now estranged.

It quickly becomes apparent why Robert has stayed away from his mother (" I hate her") but very cautiously pays a visit to her home in an attempt to reconnect with the brother whose actions have mystified him. We learn that Lee's two older brothers were sent to an orphanage soon after their father had died, while Lee, the youngest, was kept at home and slept in the same bed with his mother. In a brief scene in which Marguerite asks Lee to dance with her, we see the how Lee is tortured by long repressed feelings that Marguerite quite deviously has instigated.

The play, under David Saint's skillful direction, intensifies and builds incrementally as Lee unwittingly begins to respond more desperately and despairingly to his mother's interfering and influence. He has also found himself once again in a country he claims to hate now even more than he does the Soviet Union.

After they find a place of their own he remains unsettled, more embittered by his own life and oddly angered by Marina's gradual adjustment Lee becomes abusive. Unsurprisingly t Marguerite tracks them down and keeps meddling in their affairs. At almost every turn of events, we get to hear about the sacrifices she made for her boys and how she can't understand their ingratitude.

Aidem reveals Marguerite as a mother who isn't a quitter but is able to valiantly withstand what she sees as unjustified resentment. She does the almost impossible by making us empathize with this woman who will neither admit defeat to anyone nor permit herself to desert the sons who have disowned her.

Goldsmith is terrific as the conflicted Lee whose inner demons will never allow him to completely sever the tormenting love he feels for his mother nor will they allow him to address the guilt he feels for his increasingly brutish behavior to Marina. The play also follows the path that Marina takes from being an outsider in a strange land to a woman suddenly forced to face a tragic reality. Jackson is more than credible as the easy-going Robert who finds himself unwittingly drawn back into the quagmire created by his mother and his disillusioned and desolate brother.

The play has been given a visually impressive production. Its numerous locations, including a home, apartment, motel, police and court buildings, New York's Town Hall and a cemetery, have been masterfully designed by Michael Anania to come into view on a revolving stage. With the added enhancement of locale-specific projections designed by Michael Clark and the excellent lighting design by Ken Billington, Mama's Boy achieves its goal— to be both a provocative study in familial disharmony and a startling consideration of domestic events behind a national tragedy.

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Mama's Boy by Rob Urbinati
Directed by David Saint

Cast: Betsy Aidem (Marguerite Oswald), Michael Goldsmith (Lee Harvey Oswald), Miles G. Jackson (Robert Oswald), Laurel Casillo (Marina Oswald)
Set Design: Michael Anania
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Projection Design: Michael Clark
Original Music Composition/Sound Design: Scott Killian
Wig and Hair Design: David Bova and J. Jaret Janas
Fight Direction by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Kelly Sordelet
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, N.J.
Tickets starting at $40
Performances: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri and Sat eves at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Sunday evening at 7 pm.
From 10/18/16 Opened 10/21/16 Ends 11/06/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/21/16

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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