Gamm’s ‘Grizzly Mama’ is powerful and entertaining

Gamm’s ‘Grizzly Mama’ is powerful and entertaining

Betsy Rinaldi, reclining, plays Laurel and Amanda Ruggiero is Hannah Marshall in the Gamm Theatre’s production of “Grizzly Mama.”

PAWTUCKET – When you enter the theater, you are transported to another part of the world. You walk in through a birch forest, and look in on a living space done in early Bugaboo Creek. An antler chandelier, a deer head on the wall, a couch that looks like it’s made of hand-carved wood.

Welcome to “Grizzly Mama,” the latest production by the Gamm Theatre.

As the play opens, Deb (Casey Seymour Kim) is hard at work, making some sort of baked good while she listens to the audiobook of Patti “The Patriot” Turnbeck, a presidential candidate who sounds – coincidentally on-purpose – just like Sarah Palin. Deb’s teenage daughter, Hannah (Amanda Ruggiero), sits huddled in a chair, covered by a blanket, focused on the cell phone in her hand.

A slice of rural life, almost worthy of a Rockwell painting. Until Deb puts a gas mask on Hannah and herself, dons some heavy work gloves and carefully pours a glowing green mixture into the mixing bowl.

This is no longer a Rockwell scene, and it’s when things get interesting. Here we have a mother and daughter, living in a cabin in Meadowlake, Alaska, 4000 miles away from Cleveland, the place they used to call home. And guess who lives next door? None other than Patti the Patriot.

Deb doesn’t necessarily agree with everything Patti preaches. In fact, she’s vehemently opposed to her philosophies. And to prove to her late feminist mother that she has worth, Deb has decided to do something about it.

To say more would give away too much of the plot. What we have here are a collection of interwoven stories of daughters, each with baggage, each trying to prove her own worth to her mother. There are twists and turns in this dark dramedy, and the finale hits like a sledgehammer.

There are only three characters, not counting Patti the Patriot, who is only heard as a voiceover. Betsy Rinaldi plays Laurel, Patti the Patriot’s daughter and Hannah’s classmate.

All three ladies deliver amazing performances. Rinaldi is delightful as the self-absorbed celebrity daughter who really needs a friend and some help. Ruggiero is terrific as the fish-out-of-water teenager, stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Seymour Kim’s portrayal of Deb is stunning. She runs the emotional table in this one, leaving everything she’s got on the stage.

There’s something timely in “Grizzly Mama,” but mostly, it talks about the perversions of living up to someone else’s standards. It’s a powerful, entertaining and haunting piece of theater.

“Grizzly Mama” runs through Feb. 7 at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket. Visit www.gammtheatre.org or call the box office at 401-723-4266 for tickets and information.