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Theatre in Review: One Funny Mother (New World Stages)

Dena Blizzard. Photo: Donna Spagna Photography

Dena Blizzard enters onto a stage that looks as if it has hit by a hurricane, with toys and items of clothing scattered everywhere, and starts picking things up, like a dutiful housewife and mother. However, she worries that maybe she's a bad mother. A case in point: The neighbor's dog was in an accident and lost an eye: Blizzard's daughter asks what happened. "That's because he was a bad listener," she tells her little girl, probably setting her on the road to the therapist's office. She also explains to one of her children that varicose veins -- like those on Grandma's legs -- exist so you can find old people in the dark. And when one of her kids, overhearing a conversation, asks why Grandma says that when she dies she wants to be cremated, Blizzard explains that the old lady's ashes can be added to their Etch-a-Sketch, allowing them to play with her ad infinitum.

A bad mother? I was ready to call Child Welfare. But that is Blizzard's shtick: A former Miss New Jersey, she has built a career portraying herself as the overwhelmed keeper of a household that includes three impossibly rambunctious children and one overweight, inattentive husband. She claims to be the kind of mother who is one wineglass away from a nervous breakdown, who just barely gets through each day. To prove the point, she brings up a silver serving dish, removes the lid and pulls out three bags of fast food. Voila: The children are fed.

Much of standup comedy is niche marketing. The ideal audience for One Funny Mother is a quartet of female friends in their 30s and 40s -- wives and mothers all -- whose girl's night out began with a couple of cocktails and may include a couple more from the bar at New World Stages. Listening to Blizzard play out her role as New Jersey's most disenchanted wife and mother is likely to provide them with plenty of shock-of-recognition laughs, as was the case at the performance I attended.

For everybody else? Blizzard has her good points. She has an easy, relaxed stage persona that draws us in and makes us her confidantes. The sequence in which she works the audience, quizzing various patrons about their jobs, is flat-out uproarious, thanks to her fast-on-her-feet thinking. And her costume changes are spelled by some hilarious video interviews with a number of women (and one man) who offer scalding opinions about the state of their families. (One woman cops to -- in a stressful moment -- adding a substantial shot of Bacardi to her wine, just to get through the latest family crisis. She freely admits that the combination sounds terrible, but any port in a storm.) There's also a tasty running joke in which she produces tiny bottles of liquor out of any number of unexpected places -- from under a chair, stashed in the couch, and inside a toy house.

The downside, at least for me, is the narrowness of Blizzard's material. Even at a fast 80 minutes, she runs out of new things to say about her sexual stasis, grade-schooler meltdowns, and that sinking feeling, after the age of 40, that one's desirability is going out the window fast. The sheer oversupply of fart and poop jokes finally did me in. In the end, I found her funny about 25% of the time, clearly much less than many of those in attendance in my performance.

There are probably worse things for a comic than playing skillfully to a target audience. (I once saw an interview with Joan Rivers, in which she said that one needed to appeal only to a tiny percentage of the American public to be a success.) One Funny Mother is clearly going to provide for a lot frustrated parents looking to blow off a little steam. --David Barbour

(18 April 2016)

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