Griffin Theatre

You know why Richard Speck did in those nurses: it had something to do with his mother. And they say John Wayne Gacy plastered those boys into his bathroom wall because of his mother.

Wallace Kirkland, the title character in Griffin Theatre Company’s Women and Wallace, has a mom problem too. Playwright Jonathon Marc Sherman lets us in on it pretty quick: as soon as the lights go up, Wallace attacks his mom with a tomato, splattering her virginal white dress with red. “I love you,” he says bitterly.

In the very next scene, his mother kills herself with a kitchen knife. This leaves Wallace, six years old at the time, confused and set up for a pretty messed-up life. We know he’s troubled because he tells us. Besides, he drinks a mix of Pepto-Bismol and seltzer like water, breaks drinking glasses to get his father’s attention, and goes to a shrink. He also has bad dreams and writes angst-filled poems with such titles as “Broken Glasses,” “My Mother’s Turtlenecks,” and “Tyrannosaurus Rex.” If all that weren’t enough to convince us, Wallace spells it out even more clearly. “It all goes back to my fucking coward mother,” he says. “And if she hadn’t offed herself, I wouldn’t have any problems.”

Sherman’s efforts are earnest enough. And Griffin Theatre’s production is more than adequate–good lighting and sound, nice art direction. But the play’s big problem is its attempt to portray the effects of suicide as so heavy in the context of what is, in essence, a light comedy. Sherman would have been better off chucking the chuckles and digging deeper, or going for a more bittersweet kind of laugh. Even though the play spans Wallace’s life through the wise old age of 18, what it offers is the kind of smarmy humor and pathos found on 30-minute sitcoms. The only really good bit here is Wallace’s definition of male virginity.

Kevin L. Farrell is an affable Wallace and Ian Streicher directs with a deft touch, but the problem is that Wallace barely has any problems. I mean, yes, his mother does kill herself, which provides much grist for the psychobabble mill, but all in all, except for the little writerly conceits given the character by Sherman, Wallace handles it all pretty well. The trauma doesn’t manifest itself in any extraordinary or particularly poignant way. In fact, the biggest problem caused by Wallace’s mom problem isn’t exactly atypical, even for adolescent boys whose mothers are alive: Wallace can’t seem to get laid.

Sherman might tell us that that’s not the point, that what he’s trying to show is that Wallace can’t connect with women. But in fact Wallace connects rather well: He has a pretty warm relationship with his grandmother. He does fine with his female shrink. He has friends who are girls who go to the movies with him. He has the valedictorian of his high school class over to his house and impresses her with his writing. And when he finally gets horizontal, it’s with a college senior who is beautiful and desirable and the lead in an absurdly staged version of The Catcher in the Rye. That he doesn’t get laid sooner is because he either “talks too much or goes too fast,” he tells us, which again doesn’t have a whole lot to do with anything other than adolescence itself. I mean, Wallace is pretty normal, so what’s the big deal?

Oh, yeah–Mom, she left him, which means all women will leave him. “Women desert,” Wallace insists, but the evidence, save for Mom, is to the contrary. In fact, the college senior becomes a pal and sets him up with her younger sister, with whom he finds true love and eventually solves his mom problem. Well, to be honest, her love is only part of the solution; there’s also a 30-second conversation with his grandmother over milk and cookies. “Wallace, you can’t blame your mother for all of your problems for the rest of your life,” says his grandmother, and Wallace immediately sees the light.

It makes you wonder why somebody didn’t sit Speck and Gacy down for milk and cookies.