Each year since 2007, Arizona Women's Theatre Company has sponsored the Pandora Festival, an open competition for unpublished scripts by Arizona's female playwrights. (Full disclosure: I served as a reading judge for the 2010 competition and will be paid a small stipend for my services.) Julie Amparano's A Mother's Will was selected as a finalist to be performed as a staged reading during last year's Pandora Festival, and it also received an ariZoni Theatre Award of Excellence in 2007 for best overall production of an original script by a non-contracted theater (South Mountain Community College).
So I've been wanting to see the show for a while (more full disclosure: It's co-produced this month by my previously disclosed frequent colleagues at New Carpa Theater, and I am socially and professionally acquainted with the author, who teaches playwriting at ASU West). Despite all those needed disclosures, I chose to share it with you "Curtains" readers because it's a new play by a local writer, and getting off the beaten path can often be quite interesting.
The central character of A Mother's Will is Mary, a middle-aged Latina with terminal cancer who doesn't want to take her morphine and has begun to see the spirits she'll soon be joining, sitting patiently in her living room, clad in black and quietly praying. Her husband and three adult children have the usual conflicts with Mary and with one another -- it's a family that's gone its separate ways and must come together again to confront their responsibilities and unfinished business through pain and crisis.
Onto this framework, Amparano has built a well-rounded vignette of the memories, secrets, eccentricities, friction, and baggage of real people. Little details (like who cooks breakfast better, which in-laws are more embarrassing, and how much can be made recycling Dad's beer cans) bring the characters to life and lighten the mood as the audience learns, along with Mary's loved ones, that letting go and passing over is a necessary step we all must take. To go with dignity, on her own terms, is what Mary is fighting for, even as her mind and body start to fail her.
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Alfredo Escarcega's scenic design is intricate and realistic. It evokes a handcrafted, lived-in home, it's a lot more set than I've typically seen at shows from either New Carpa or AWTC, and it helps ground the story in its real setting -- the human heart.
The performances are consistently strong in the tight ensemble, and the plot developments grow naturally from character and situation. If you're up for a little domestic bittersweetness in your entertainment this weekend, A Mother's Will might be a good choice for you.
A Mother's Will continues through Sunday, March 14, at Playhouse on the Park, 1850 North Central Avenue. Admission is $12 to $18. Order tickets here or call 602-254-2151.