Photo of Bess Welden by Darren Setlow.
Review: Exit ‘Tiger’; enter ‘Hausfrau’
Forget the book club.
This week, instead of gathering with your girlfriends to chat about Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” check out a woman who has the mothering tiger by the tail, in “The Passion of the Hausfrau” at White Plains Performing Arts Center.
The clever one-woman play — which makes its New York premiere through Feb. 13 — is based on Nicole Chaison’s “Hausfrau Muthah-zine” and was written by Chaison, WPPAC artistic director Annette Jolles (who also directs) and Bess Welden.
It is Welden — a wiz with voices — who takes to the stage, conjuring up more than 20 characters. From the harried title character to her toddler daughter to her chain-smoking grandmother, Welden makes each character distinct with little quirks and gestures all their own.
“Hausfrau” taps into contemporary mothering with a freshness and directness that will resonate with those in the throes of the exercise.
If you’re of a certain age — anywhere from 25 to, say, 55 — you might recognize the voice and the situations as your own. Your mother might be not get some of the references, but your husband certainly will.
• When a trip to the grocery store becomes an exercise in crowd-control, part tight-rope act, part Bermuda Triangle.
• When you trawl playgrounds for a sister soul-mate and then proceed to “audition” for her.
• When your daughter prefers her ballet teacher to you.
“Hausfrau,” which is German for “housewife,” might also have more than a hint of another German word: “schadenfreude,” pleasure at the misery of others.
Because for all its joys, “Hausfrau” asserts there’s plenty of mothering misery to go around.
For some, it might be a misery they’ll recognize, when you have to forget about Carol Brady and June Cleaver and settle for Marge Simpson.
But the conclusion — reached after a charming and funny “Odyssey”-like series of trials — is that there’s value and heroism in the process. The roller-coaster twists and turns, yes, but when you reach the end, plenty of people want to ride again.
Welden’s performance — 80 minutes of manic panic and laughs — is enhanced by huge projected images taken from Chaison’s source material. These provide some of the evening’s best sightgags and punchlines, complemented nicely by Hans Indigo Spencer’s original score and sound design.
If there’s one quibble, and it’s a small one, it’s that there are moments when the writers have been too faithful to Chaison’s written word, making the dialogue seem too writerly, as when the hausfrau narrator says “e.g.” instead of “for example” or “a.k.a.” instead of “also known as.” In a script that is as conversational and real as a chat with your hairdresser, these rare moments remind you that this adaptation started life in another form.
Get a sitter.
Gather some friends.
Sit in a darkened theater and for an intermissionless 80 minutes and you might just see yourself up there.
And, in a winter that has been too full of snow days, shoveling and delayed openings, you might just laugh at the absurdity of it all, go home and hug your kids a bit too hard.
They’ll get over it.
“The Passion of the Hausfrau,” by Bess Welden, Annette Jolles and Nicole Chaison. Through Feb. 13. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. White Plains Performing Arts Center, City Center mall, 11 City Center, White Plains. $39. 877-548-3237 or The White Plains Performing Arts Center website.