“Moms” The Story of Moms Mabley, Black Ensemble Theater, at the South Shore Cultural Center. Life would have been harder for Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, and other black comedians without Moms Mabley. Combining classic routines with anecdotes from this groundbreaking performer’s well-guarded personal life, Jackie Taylor offers insight into Mabley as well as the fiercely racist environment in which she rose to fame. Eva D. stars, supported by a trio playing various characters in flashbacks to Mabley’s adolescence, early career, and guilt-ridden motherhood.

The show’s best moments come from Mabley’s bawdy repertoire (“Ain’t nothin’ an old man can do for me ‘cept bring me a message from a young one!”). Some have argued that her material has not held up. On the contrary, her punch lines still take audiences by surprise and provide the added shock of a grandma talking about sex. Taylor’s script provides a decent chronology of Mabley’s milestones, but her attempts to inject tears-behind-the-laughter drama feel shallow. A daughter cries repeatedly, “How can she be laughing on the outside and so angry on the inside?” If the details needed to answer that question are unavailable, Taylor might be better off not focusing on it in the second act. By the same token the play’s original songs don’t do much to move the story along or develop the characters. That time–and the downright delicious talents of the show’s jazz ensemble–would be better spent reenacting the great songs of the era that Mabley made famous. –Kim Wilson