Barbara Andres (right) returns in the role she performed in the acclaimed Off Broadway production of I REMEMBER MAMA, when the play goes up this Saturday as the season’s closer at Two River Theater. (Photo by Transport Group).
It’s about family, of course — specifically the Hanson family, Norwegian immigrants struggling to carve out a new life for themselves in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. To the extended Hanson brood — Mama, Papa, their four kids, plus three aunts, an uncle and a boarder named Mr. Hyde — the rock-ribbed principles of hard work, education, sacrifice, love, loyalty and thrift sometimes chafe up against a yearning for something else in this new-world setting. But in John Van Druten’s play I Remember Mama, it’s the title character who ultimately keeps the universe in balance for this collection of dreamers, schemers, no-nonsense traditionalists and sensitive souls.
Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes — and subsequently transformed into a hit film, a TV series, and Richard Rodgers’ last musical — the 1944 ensemble piece goes up in previews this Friday, June 3 as the final mainstage offering of the 2015-2016 season at Two River Theater. As re-imagined by NYC’s Transport Group and director Jack Cummings III, the comedy-drama is given a compelling twist, with all of the play’s 20-plus roles — men, women, children and teens — performed by a company of actresses aged 60 and over.
A number of the cast members will be reprising their parts from the 2014 New York production; prominent among them Barbara Andres in the central role for which she gained a Drama Desk Award nomination. The assembly of marvelous faces includes several that might be familiar from New York stages and variously sized screens — including Lynn Cohen (Magda in Sex and the City; Mags in The Hunger Games), Dale Soules (an award winner as Frieda on Orange is the New Black), and Louise Sorel (winner of multiple Soap Opera Digest awards for Days of Our Lives, and a presence on classic-TV reruns of Star Trek, Night Gallery, Bonanza and many others).
There’s also an original cast member of Broadway’s Hair (Heather MacRae), the very first “Girl” from the legendary Off Broadway phenomenon The Fantasticks (Rita Gardner), Barbra Streisand’s original Broadway understudy (Susan Lehman), a Helen Hayes Award winner (Alice Cannon), and two fellow seasoned performers new to this production (Marjorie Johnson, Mia Katigbak). They’re all together under the direction of Cummings — “ten masterful women” that, in the words of Two River artistic director John Dias, “breathe a fresh, new life into this marvelous old classic and make it feel young again.”
I Remember Mama goes up in previews on June 4, opens at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 10, and runs through June 26 with a mix of matinee and evening performances. Post-play conversations with cast members and Two River’s artistic staff will take place following the performances on June 15 (7 p.m.), June 19 (3 p.m.) and June 22 (1 p.m.). Tickets ($20 – $65 adults) obtainable here — where you’ll also find schedule details on a one-weekend engagment of the interactive family show Where the Wild Things Are (about which more to come in this space), and a special live podcast recording on June 20, in which host Alec Baldwin is joined on the Two River mainstage by Oscar and Tony winner Kevin Kline.
As part of its Inside Two River series of free arts and humanities programs, TRTC literary manager Anika Chapin leads a Book Club session on Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, as a discussion of “growing up and the relationship between adult children and their parents.” The discussion takes place in the theater’s upstairs Victoria Mastrobuono Library on Sunday, June 19 at 5:30 p.m. (following that day’s 3 p.m. performance).
The Mastrobuono Library is also the setting for a special lecture on Thursday, June 23, when guest speaker Bill Ditto of West Fram Antiques discusses “The Importance of Ancestry and Antiques” as part of the Conversation + Play salon series curated by The Navesink (producers of the TEDxNavesink conference) and Two River Theater. Tickets for this event are $50 and include the salon (exclusive pre-show event with talk, food, and drink) and the 8 p.m. performance. To purchase tickets, go here and use the promo code NAVESINK50.