The boys round about are, of course, hot for her. Roland is sensitive and artistic and is probably the man she would have married in a perfect world. Hank is the hot-shot golden boy who believes he’s God’s gift to womankind, who will end up in Vegas with his shirt open to his waist, his money and his looks gone, if there’s any justice.
The degree to which sweet Annie is the innocent victim of all the dysfunction around her is the psychological groundwork of this important new work. I know Annie is supposed to be a feminist icon — I know this because, like Nora Helmer, she walks out at the end, slamming the door behind — but she spends a lot of time reacting to the initiative of others. She catches on shockingly late in the incident — he has to be almost bare-ass naked — that Hank is assaulting her. She obsesses over her neighbors’ child-rearing advice as though she’d never had one of her own. When she finally fights with her husband, it sounds bitchy rather than assertive, because she’s let the tyranny go on too long, and there’s nothing to say but “I hurt.” These situations are set up for the maximum of humor — a character’s delay in recognizing the obvious is pretty funny — but I wonder if we are laughing at the right person?
Whatever is happening in the familiar plot is ignited by the sheer star power of its two main actors. Tracey Johnston-Crum is luminous. You see why the boys are smitten, and you imagine an unwritten gay subplot for her husband to explain why he’s not all over her. Johnston-Crum acts with efficiency and sings with understanding, and a history of theater-going at the MF will affirm that she can say anything, however iffy, that’s put into her mouth and it will sound genuine.
Magnetic Field newcomer James Meador delivers a professional quality embodiment of the teenager who’s received a little too much affirmation. Meador’s gestures are a bit stylized, but perhaps that’s a nod toward the grand tradition of the American musical. His delivery is precise, pointed, and his body language is an entire subplot of its own.
These two light up the stage, and one wishes almost that their fictional relationship had a chance. He would at least appreciate the banquets of whatever sort she lay before him.
Del Vecchio reveals a talent for the lyric that (so far as I know) she has not had a chance to exhibit before. The play comes alive in the songs, the lyrics witty, the music serviceable, the plot hurled forward as is sometimes not the case in the wide patches of spoken exposition. Kehren Barbour’s set is sensational, functional and symbolic, a triumphant use of that imperfect space.
That Asheville needs musicals is clear. It has nearly everything else. MILF is an honest offering, and I hope it is the mother of legions more. I thought that I had pretty much heard it before, somewhere in the cultural milieu between The Doll’s House and Desperate Housewives, but I hope Asheville turns out en masse to make up its own mind.
MILF, by the way, means “Mothers I’d Like to ... uh ... be Familiar with ...” and perhaps at the end of the evening you will be making your own list, happy, after seeing the consequences, that you didn’t put your longing into action.
Through Oct. 13 at The Magnetic Field. Get the full details here. Photo by Peter Brezny