It’s considered a tragedy for parents to outlive their children. But is that any comfort for a care-giving child on the verge of outliving her parents? Last Lists of My Mad Mother is the tragicomic account of Dot (Jeanette Puhich, pictured), a middle-age woman whose once-brilliant mother (Barbara Smith) teeters on the edge of sanity as Alzheimer’s disease takes its toll.
Smith’s performance is wholly and heartbreakingly genuine. As the narrative unfolds, we get the sense of Ma as having been a woman of great precision—precise of speech, precise of mind and, perhaps, a bit too precise when it came to parenting.
Now, Dot is faced with the role-reversal that confronts every child whose parents reach a certain age. Her father, a “patient patient,” languishes offstage with terminal cancer, while Ma, the “impatient patient,” demands thrice-daily car rides and meals consisting mainly of Honey Bunches of Oats.
The role of caregiver is not an easy one, and Dot’s sole emotional outlet is through phone calls with Sis (Holly Fowers), a positive-thinking multi-mom whose advice might seem more effectual if it weren’t coming from so far away.
Julie Jensen’s dialogue can be a bit, well ... precious at times. Maybe the sing-song repartee is the playwright’s way of distancing herself from the emotionally wrenching material, but it jars with the actors’ otherwise excellent characterizations. Puhich, especially, powers through the worst of it, coming across as a supremely compelling, yet wrenchingly vulnerable, caregiver.
LAST LISTS OF MY MAD MOTHER
Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City, 801-355-2787
Through Nov. 19