Traci Godfrey’s dramedy, now in its midwest premiere at Artemisia Theatre directed by Julie Proudfoot, begins with Ellie (Molly Lyons) pulling her secret stash of booze out of a cowboy boot. That perfect snapshot of a gesture hints at the comedy and drama to come, though neither prove integrated enough in the proceedings to enhance each other’s impact. Ellie is the small-town, bigoted, and generally drunk mother of Kate (Scottie Caldwell), who has grudgingly returned home to Texas from New York City for a visit. While Ellie hopes this is a chance for Kate to reconnect with childhood flame Alan John (John Wehrman), she gets the shock of her life when she meets Kate’s African American wife, Samantha (Anita Kavuu-Ng’ang’a). Framing the first act around these revelations leads to moments of slapstick and camp that mitigate the effects of the emotional arcs to follow in the second act.
As Ellie, Lyons shows off the chops of a veteran actress comfortable sitting in a fallible character with self-defeating habits and a limited worldview. She draws hatred and sympathy from the audience in one breath, punctuating the heaviest moments with dry wit. However, while all four characters evolve in the second act, there aren’t enough grounding details for us to invest in them as complex, multifaceted personalities. As the catalyst for the conflict and eventual catharsis, Samantha deserves more attention to her own story and complicated relationship with her deceased parents and the environment around her. As she says, “parents aren’t disposable,” whether they are still around or gone too soon. v