An actor (excellent Courtney Sauls), appears before the audience as playwright Sigrid Gilmer. Fierce of mien and scowling, she grabs a microphone and lambastes the audience to disabuse them of conventional expectations regarding her new play, Mama Metal. The list of theatrical commonalities—happy endings, climax and dénoument, an orderly progression…yadda, yadda—that might be reasonably expected by an audience are out the window. She will present the story her way, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Then she becomes winsome with a coy smile blooming on her face as she acknowledges that she is really an actor. A few more words and she snaps back into the furrowed brow of the playwright to deliver the usual pre-show announcements—cell phones, exits, etc.—and we are off to the races in a show unlike any other. And, oh yes, she reveals that the whole production dances to the frantic beat of heavy metal music, with a quartet of actors (Rodney To, Chris Gardner, Graham Sibley, and Jamie Wollrab) who play air-guitars and an air-drum set with head-banging, tongue hanging authenticity.
Mama Metal tells the thinly disguised story of the playwright’s relationship with her mother. Assuming the stage name of Sterling Milburn, Ms. Sauls represents the angst of caring for her mother, Belle (Lee Sherman in a superb performance), who is in the last throws of severe Parkinson’s disease and all the emotion difficulties the situation engenders. The story roams over the past, snapping from one time to another, showing Belle as a young child in the racist South, as a flower child in San Francisco, and as a mother to Sterling, who remembers things very differently than does her mother.
The structure of the play calls for two more characters, Pink Orchid (Christian Telesmar) and Blue Orchid (Cesar Cipriano), handsome and buff, wearing short-shorts and tank tops, the better to ogle their physiques. They serve the story in interesting ways.
Since Mama Metal is a “mama play,” the playwright has seen fit to plug in a surprising theatrical device to gin up the story in a most delightful way with the appearance of a couple of characters. It is one of the best things in the show and too good to reveal here. You want to know? See the show.
Set designer James Maloof and lighting designer R.S. Buck have repurposed one of the Atwater Villages Theatre’s 99-seat playhouses (the one on the left facing the entrance) turning it into a stadium-seat concert venue. The audience enters as if from the stage, passing through a curtain of metal chains. Just walking in that way put a grin on my face. From the audience perspective, it seems very much like a concert venue with towers that support lighting instruments and bridges to the back, with ladders that the cast can scamper up for some scenes.
The sound design by Jeff Gardner is superb. The costume designer is Halei Parker and Shen Heckel is prop master. The stage manager is Alina Goodman, assisted by Kimberly Sanchez.
Written by Sigrid Gilmer and directed by Deena Selenow (assisted by Rachel Berney Needleman), Mama Metal is unique and original and can’t be compared to anything else. Produced for IAMA by Lexi Sloan, with Camille Jenkins and Jeff Lorch as associate producers, IAMA Theatre Company’s Mama Metal runs through June 23 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles.