If your dysfunctional family doesn't provide enough entertainment for you, then come visit the Grunman clan currently residing at Baltimore's Strand Theater. The world premiere of Dylan Brody's MOTHER, MAY I opens the door on one family's skewered life.
Director Rain Pryor deftly places her audience in the middle of this cesspool of secrets. Caught between two rooms in the Grunman home, they are silent visitors to a family dynamic that one character describes as a "tilt-a-whirl" ride. It shifts and turns between the diva mother, the silent father, the exasperated adult son and the sarcastic daughter. Everyone has something to hide, and no one can get off the ride.
Valerie Lash brings the toxic wonder that is narcissistic personality disorder to life as Ellen Grunman. Ellen never met a reality she couldn't alter, ignore or diminish. She dominates, disrupts and dismisses with enough guile to get away with it and enough venom to do lasting damage. The moments when she drops the charm and sits silently calculating with narrowed eyes and pursed lips are small but striking bits of character development.
Larry Levinson quietly commands his own kind of attention as Paul Grunman, who is both victim and participant in the family melodrama. He finally breaks his own silence in a forceful moment only to have the truth thrown back in the closet. He prefers repression to expression and is the painfully quiet complement to his effusive wife.
Jon Kevin Lazarus plays Daniel Grunman as the amiable but resigned adult child of two clueless parents. He is likeably grudging as he tries to introduce his girlfriend to the family. Caroline C. Kiebach is all sunny optimism as Sarah Cannerly ,who is blithely unaware of the emotional whiplash awaiting her.
Franny Grunman, played winningly by Jessica Felice, can't decide whether to take the role of family rebel or little girl in distress. Ellen and Paul only respond to their children's misery. And if there's no misery, they'll be sure to create some.
You know you've hit a nerve when the audience energetically starts relating the story to their own lives and the people they know. The lopsided lessons we learned from our childhood families are forever imprinted deep in our minds. The gaps of knowledge and the broken links of communication can never fully be repaired. Maybe "you can't go home again," but, then, you never really leave it behind.
MOTHER, MAY I plays now through October 12 at The Strand, 1823 North Charles. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students/seniors and can be purchased by calling 443-874-4917 or online at the www.strand-theater.org.