Daughters of the Mock, Congo Square Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. Enacting rituals onstage is a tricky business: the solemnity of the rites can feel forced and hence comical. Witness the audience laughter accompanying the voodoo climax of Judi Ann Mason’s tale of a Louisiana roots woman and the curse–or blessing, as she maintains–she bestows on her female descendants, as explicated through Mason’s stilted, repetitive dialogue. Maumau insists that they never break their hearts over a man and marry only to produce female offspring. (Suffice it to say that men have a short shelf life in the family.) Her granddaughters rebel against this edict, but grandma’s knowledge of the dark arts keeps them in line.
Except for Chavez Ravine in a grounded, hypnotic turn as Maumau, the performers seem lost as they attempt to negotiate Mason’s abrupt and sometimes arbitrary transitions. Libya Pugh’s staging does occasionally capture the sadness and menace of Maumau’s home, which suggests both the rigid world of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba and the mysterious tragic forces of Kasi Lemmons’s brilliant 1997 film Eve’s Bayou.
In an odd twist, given the work’s themes, actress TaRon Patton (who plays Maumau’s daughter Oralia) received and accepted a marriage proposal at the curtain call. Her spontaneous joy provided a beautiful example of the emotional truth these actresses might achieve in a stronger, more fluid play.