Grizzly Mama Actors Shine Despite Grizzly Script

I’m a political junkie. So when I had the opportunity to see The Gamm’s production of Grizzly Mama by George Brant, I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, a black comedy that seems to invoke the image of Sarah Palin? Sign me up!

Walking into The Gamm’s intimate theater, you are immediately enveloped into the beautifully intimate set by Michael McGarty. The birch trees alone were nothing short of stunning, and the simple rustic cabin made you feel as if you were in Alaska with the characters. Megan Estes’ lighting design complements the set, and really makes you feel that brisk Alaskan air.

Deb (Casey Seymour Kim) has moved her daughter (Betsy Rinaldi) to the remote woods of Alaska, next door to Patti, a reimagined Sarah Palin who we only meet through the radio. We learn very early on that Deb has mistakenly poisoned the Turnbeck’s dog in a foiled attempt to kill Patti. She is doing this as some type of misguided attempt to make her dead mother proud of her.  She then turns to her daughter to enlist her in her obscene plan.

This is the type of show I enjoy seeing, where there is a small cast so that you know as the audience member you are going to be gifted with exemplary performances. The three women onstage do not disappoint.

Casey Seymour Kim does a solid job as the crazed gun-toting liberal. Some of my favorite moments was when she would point to the sky and yell “42!” in reference to her age  She was funny, she was tender, and when she was a total whack job you wanted to shake her! Excellent job!

Betsy Rinaldi does her best with the stilted dialogue that was written for her character. When the playwright allows her to say something real, she really shines. The manifesto moment was hands down my favorite moment of the night. Although I personally didn’t enjoy how her character was written, it was clear that she is one heck of a talent.

Amanda Ruggeri as Laurel, the girl next door who is living under the microscope of reality TV, delivers an outstanding performance. Her character would be the Hollywood version of Bristol Palin, however, Ruggeri plays it with such innocence and warmth that you just want to hug her.

George Brant’s script is funny at times. However, sometimes he doesn’t know when to give up a joke. Yes, the first dozen times “OMG” was funny, however, after one of my favorite lines of the night, “Don’t tweet at me,” it was time to let the internet acronyms go. Rinaldi did her best with it, but I kept wondering if Brant really thought teens speak like this all the time. (They don’t.) And even as a black comedy, bits like that fall flat after a while.

At times, at no fault of the talented women on stage, the dialogue became too much. Too many one liners, too many times the same point was rehashed, and far too many internet acronyms. This play was written for the 2012 election, and still speaks true today (especially the week Tina Fey was given the opportunity to grace SNL with her impression). However, in the time between 2012 and now, the script could have used a fine-toothed comb to remove some of the troubled spots.

This is not to suggest that you should skip this one at The Gamm. It’s worth the price of admission for the glowing performances alone. And, even with a script that could be stronger, you’re still bound to leave the theater engaged in a conversation, and really isn’t that the point after all?

Grizzly Mama runs until February 7 at The Gamm in Pawtucket. For tickets, visit gammtheatre.org or call the box office at 401-723-4266.

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