A Séance With Mom is a solo show by Nancy Redman. Quite a few elements were weighing against this production. For one, the noise from the space next door or above – or somewhere – was so distracting, I don’t know how Redman was able to perform this show in that space at all.
What was even more distressing was the poor quality of the text, the acting and the direction. This show is nearly unwatchable. But watch, I did, for 90-odd minutes as Nadine Plotnick (Redman) fumbled with the script and repeated the main theme of the showdown with her mother for about 50 of the 90 minutes: “Mom, I need to tell you something. It’s very important.”
The setting is Nadine’s cluttered (we are told) apartment. Nadine has something extremely important she has to tell her mother (Gussie) which she didn’t reveal when Gussie was alive. The premise is a séance with her dead mother that she hopes to accomplish with the help of a dead Jewish rabbi who is a caricature of a very old Jewish rabbi. Since I don’t know any dead Jewish rabbis who speak and conduct séances, I can’t say how accurate Nancy’s portrayal was.
Nadine conjures the rabbi who conjures her mother, but he gets the wrong Gussie Plotnick to appear. Wrong Gussie is gracious because apparently, it happens frequently. When the right Gussie does actually appear, she’s a horrible, horrible person. Critical of her daughter at every turn, she gives Jewish mothers a very bad name. Gussie gets more and more abusive, and she alternates her abuse with reciting the litany of her doctor appointments which apparently still take place when you’re dead and in heaven (where Jesus Christ is her mahjong buddy.)
When Nadine finally spilled the beans it was anticlimactic: Her stepfather had touched her inappropriately when she was a girl. I don’t mean to make small potatoes of such an experience, but frankly, most women have been groped inappropriately many times in their lives – by family, friends of family, creeps in the subway, our teachers, our employers, our doctors, and sweaty boys. It’s not that it’s not awful. It just wasn’t worth 90 minutes of build-up. At the end of the show her mother apologizes, and we are supposed to accept they have improved their relationship, and Nadine has a huge weight off her chest.
Nancy Redman is very tentative throughout. The character of Nadine has MS, and I assume by her use of a cane and a walker, that Redman does as well. I’m not sure how this might have affected her performance, but I can’t imagine it had anything to do with the writing.
A final curiosity – on the single piece of furniture, a table, sits a cardboard box. We expect there’s something in the box that has to do with the secret Nadine wants to get off her chest, but Redman never touches or refers to it.
Positives: One is the use of Yiddish, which I adore, and another is that characters were distinct and occasionally engaging.
A Séance With Mom, written and performed by Nancy Redman
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Presented by Eighteen Productions NYC and George Slessinger at Chain Studio Theatre312 West 36th Street, 4th floor
Twelve evening performances: Mondays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM.
Six 3:00 PM matinees: Wed 8/23, Sat 8/26, Sun 8/27, Wed 8/30, Sat 9/2, Sun. 9/3
Tickets: $22 in advance; $25 for walkups Tickets HERE