Someone’s in the Kitchen With Mommy, at Urbus Orbis. Writer-performer Ruth Oliver puts an original spin on the contemporary one-woman show with her Someone’s in the Kitchen With Mommy: treating the audience as if we were her neighbors in an Appalachian town, she shares family stories while baking us biscuits. According to her program notes, Oliver created the character of eastern Kentuckian Dolores Adkins out of a search into her own roots and traditions. And because she clearly knows the graciousness and hospitality of her character, Dolores’s interactions with the audience are some of the most engaging moments in the piece.
But sometimes one wonders if Oliver is too close to the material to consider her work objectively. Because she uses snapshots (which she collected from all over rural America) as a device to tell family tales, the show lacks any rising dramatic action. Conflicts are alluded to, such as the tension between Dolores and her aging father, but never followed up on. After baking and serving the biscuits, Oliver resorts to melodrama for resolution, ending the show with an over-the-top story. And though Dolores isn’t a shy character, Oliver seems a bit unsteady at times–the risk in a one-person show is that there’s no one else to fall back on. Perhaps if Oliver explores her heritage by developing a play with more characters, rather than just snapshots, the culture will come to life in a deep and believable way, as it does in the fine work of Appalachian playwright
–Gabrielle S. Kaplan