To be perfectly fair, almost anything else might pale in comparison to Decatur native Lauren Gunderson’s splendid “Ada and the Memory Engine,” the first of two shows to open in conjunction with Essential Theatre’s annual summer festival spotlighting the work of Georgia playwrights.
To be completely honest, on the other hand, even under those extenuating circumstances, you can only cut Atlanta writer G.M. Lupo’s “Another Mother” so much slack. (The productions continue in rotating repertory at the West End Performing Arts Center through Aug. 27.)
Lupo’s piece, particularly as statically staged by Essential artistic director Peter Hardy, is effectively less of a dysfunctional family drama and more of a tediously dysfunctional drama about family — which isn’t exactly the same thing. No small part of the problem is that Lupo basically shows us his hand and puts his proverbial cards on the table far too soon, so that we’re always several steps ahead of our inquisitive young heroine, instead of uncovering certain details along with her.
She’s Genevieve Duchard (Rylee Bunton), who’s weighing her college options while also dealing with the recent death of her mother, Rosalind (Nina Jones), a professor at MIT who periodically appears to her in a few poorly delineated dream sequences. The play’s second or third scene is a flashback that reveals to the audience how Rosalind, unable to conceive or carry a child herself, enlists her lab assistant, Leah (Kelly Quinn), as an egg donor, and how she plans to recruit her cousin Barbara (Sarah Falkenburg Wallace) as the “gestational mother.”
Waiting for Genevieve to catch up to what the rest of us already know involves a lot of redundant talk about genetics and such, as she and another relative (Kristin Storla) research their DNA and happen upon those skeletons in the family closet. Soon enough, Genevieve heads for Atlanta to meet, if not at first to confront, Leah, and by superfluous extension, Leah’s flaky sister (Christie Vozniak) and dutiful lawyer (Trey York).
Lupo eventually compounds the problematic situation by also stacking the deck with an inordinate number of other topical issues, like so many heavy-handed bullet points — “comparative debates” about scientific fact versus religious faith; about the “law of unintended consequences” and legal custody of the remaining embryos Leah originally donated; and even about the ultimate estrangement between Rosalind and Barbara, involving the latter’s leukemia-stricken daughter and her need for a bone marrow transplant.
The performances by Hardy’s cast are adequate, if hardly compelling, his production values negligible, and his blocking frequently awkward.
To digress, I don’t mean to pull rank, but when you can’t save a seat for the critic on a sold-out opening night, thereby obscuring from his view a vast majority of the action by allowing him to end up off to the side in the late-seating section — even though he arrived 10 or 15 minutes early — well, whose fault is that?
“Another Mother” is rarely any more observant than in my favorite line from the play (needless to say): “People can seem very different based on the angle from which you see them.”
Through Aug. 26 (in rotating repertory with “Ada and the Memory Engine”). 8 p.m. Aug. 7 (Industry Night), Aug. 11-12, 21 (Industry Night), 24 and 26; 7 p.m. Aug. 13; 2 p.m. Aug. 20. $10-$25. West End Performing Arts Center, 945 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. SW, Atlanta. www.essentialtheatre.com.
Bottom line: A dysfunctional family drama in more ways than one.