by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
The first thing that comes to mind in the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Comic Playwriting award-winning Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers, written by Louisa Hill, is the current political climate in which we are living. It’s a fact. We are moving back to the past, into a culture of shame for women, especially where sex is concerned.
Lord of the Underworld’s Home for Unwed Mothers, currently playing at Skylight Theatre, shatters all illusion of normalcy for, according to real statistics, the hundreds of thousands of pre-Roe vs Wade era young girls who had their lives ripped apart by brutal social stigma and the weaponization of religion, and what the repercussions of the dictated societal regulation left in its wake. But the story doesn’t end in a single generation. The beauty and mendacity of Lord of the Underworld’s is that it skips right to the pitiless result or as Hill herself puts it, “the heartbreaking consequences of following the rules at the cost of family.”
But then, there’s the comedy. A lot of it! As the roots of reproductive justice are unearthed in the play, we are still witnessing the naivety of a young teenage girl, Dee, effervescing love for her childhood sweetheart who she intends to marry someday, justifying sex before marriage. Then falling in lust with the new neighborhood bad boy. Becoming pregnant by the wrong boy who inevitably denies any part. Having to confront her parents who are more concerned with social standing in their community and Church. Being sent away for a “health cure”. Then the final horrific blow of having the baby alone and given no choice whatsoever to keep it. There are some serious stomach punches for Dee and not from the kicking baby inside. There is so much shame and guilt and cruelty thrust upon Dee in the name of love and position that the irony is laughable and sweet and utterly terrible.
What follows in the second half is even sadder as Dee, now an older woman in her 40s meets the daughter she gave up. Nothing has gone as planned for the child who is now 25 years old. Corie (Michaela Slezak) has had zero stability as a result of the foster care system, hardly any love, no real parental direction, is angry and confused as hell and mucking up her life as a regular habit.
Apart from Dee’s imagination, there are no fantasies here. And the settling emotional drama is like the weight of a large person on one’s chest – heavy and just – there. It’s all so persistently painful. Although, there’s a glimmer of hope for the two women in an unexpected capacity. Just don’t hope for the fairy tale ending. No one will be getting that.
There is a brilliance in the simplicity of this production. Intricately navigated detail in scenic and sound design, lighting, and costume, is amplified by the indefatigable comic timing of the chorus (Adrian Gonzalez & Amy Harmon) who interchange character roles, and wholly on-the-mark direction by Tony Albatamarco. The entire cast fully breathes this story to life; lead actress Corryn Cummins (Dee) most of all. If ever there was an exact, on pointe performance, this is it. Cummins defies all stagecraft, immersing this story in amped believability. Cummins fluidly steps into the role of an adorable, teenage girl and respectively returns as a sober, rational adult, clueless about the serious disaster of her daughter’s life, yet compassionate.
The real hilarity of this play is by Amy Harmon (chorus) who solidly delivers all the absurd, OMG cuts and bites, in each character, in every ridiculous, shocking, hysterical moment. Adrian Gonzalez (chorus) is adorably funny in all his boy roles and as Dee’s father, gentle as he is determined to be a good dad – in the worst way.
Painfully delightful in all. Hill has taken a serious, horrible history and lovingly turned it into an empathetic reality.
CAST: Corryn Cummins (as Dee), Michaela Slezak (as Corie), Adrian Gonzalez (Male Chorus), Amy Harmon (Female Chorus), Marylin Winkle (Celloist)
TEAM: Gary Grossman (Producer), Tony Abatemarco Director), Cindy Lin (Scenic Design), Jeff McLaughlin (Lighting Design), Christopher Moscatiello (Sound Design), and Sarah Figoten Costume Design)