Oh S***, I’m Turning Into My Mother

November 5, 1998.By Carolyn Petrie, Twin Cities Revue.

Theater Latté Da

Director Peter Rothstein has found one of the world’s view universal themes for his company’s new original cabaret. Who hasn’t been shocked by a momentary glimpse of their mother’s eyes in their own reflection, or a familiarity maternal lilt in their own voice?

There’s a poignancy and a panicked amusement that comes with the revelation that, like our dear old moms, we’re aging – and in the parlance of American pop culture, that means we’re becoming less and less cool with every passing year. Through actor Tod Petersen’s Minnesota-flavored humor and a wide range of mom-themed songs, Oh S***, I’m Turning Into My Mother hits on a slew of emotions that surround parent and childhood. While it’s an entertaining survey, it emerges a bit unbalances in the telling.

The imbalance of the show comes from its wildly divergent perspectives: its songs, beautifully sung by Aimee Bryant and Katy Elsen, take the audience through a range of experiences, but its narrative remains frustratingly one-dimensional. Largely built around Petersen’s clowny impressions of his middle-class mom – who emerges as a strangely comic hybrid of Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman and Paul Lynde – the show’s non-musical segments as little more than a series of dork jokes.

It’s clear that Petersen’s impressions of his mother spring from a source of affectionate jest, and at times they are laugh-out-loud funny – particularly when he satirizes her apple-pie accent. Bust he consistently chooses to mimic the ways of his mother is unintentionally comic: the faux-hip way she dresses, the way she can’t remember celebrities’ names, and the problem she has “with the pretend part of theater.” Petersen’s charming delivery makes his material seem well-intentioned, but his jokes always always ask us to laugh at his mom, not with her. When he finally shares a small glimpse of his mother exercising her own lovely voice, it underscores how little we have really learned about her.

Packed with songs that take us all over the map – from the sex-drenched Kander & Ebb tune “Don’t Tell Mama” to Craig Carnelia’s poignant “Just A Housewife” – the show’s soul resides in its music. Singers Bryant and Elsen, both phenomenally talented, bring layers of meaning to the surface of every tune. They clearly love their material, as Petersen loves his – it just seems like this play’s music and its comedy belong on two separate stages. Oh S***, I’m Turning Into My Mother runs through Nov. 22 at the Loring Playhouse. 1633 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 337-6666.