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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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‘Mom’s Gift’ embraces traditional theatrical values

The atmosphere of the auditorium before the start of “Mom’s Gift” gave the audience a good sense of what they were in for with this year’s offering from the Encore! Encore! theater company at the Lincoln Center.

However, it’s not because it’s decked out with striking set pieces or any other kind of eye-snatching theatrical goo-gags.

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Before the show even begins, there’s an immediate sense of warmth and community in the air that one rarely finds in the increasingly colder, isolated and intellectualized world of theater. Even much of today’s theater community tends to be more focused on its sexy, edgy theatrics than it does the actual community it serves. But the audience doesn’t get this impression from Encore’s showing of “Mom’s Gift.” 

From its Minnesota setting to its middle-class suburban characters and their snappy PG-rated comebacks, “Mom’s Gift” is certainly traditional, a word often considered nothing short of blasphemy in the modern art world. But the show’s traditionalism needn’t negate its value.

After all, was it the Greeks’ hunger for sex, edge and danger that first brought them out en masse to the City Dionysia to view the plays of Sophocles and Euripides? Or was it the celebration of community that occurred there and the tradition of it?

Let us not forget that theater is, at its core, a ritualistic practice. It has the potential to challenge our perceptions of art and life, but at the center of it all, we go to the theater to feel connection. Not just connection to the story of the play and the characters within it, but connection to the community we experience that story with. Encore has certainly fostered that connection.

Despite its rather trite script, the Encore players instill the show with a kind of life, energy and fun, making it something wholly new and unique.

Admittedly, the play itself is a bit underwhelming. It follows the exploits of a young, career-obsessed woman, Kat, who must take a break from her hoity-toity career-driven life for a weekend to attend a family reunion, where she rediscovers the value of family, friendship, faith, love and all the other stock American virtues.

It’s a tried-and-true formula pulled straight from the Hallmark Channel’s holiday movie lineup. But despite its rather trite script, the Encore players instill the show with a kind of life, energy and fun, making it something wholly new and unique.

It’s clear that the cast had a good time putting this show together and are enjoying every minute they are on stage. The show isn’t plagued with the kind of forced, desperate theatricality that sometimes haunts community theater productions. Every actor is comfortable with their character, their wants and desires, and allows the lines to flow through them in an organic and relaxed manner. 

They also present themselves in a manner that contributes to the sense of community created by the audience, rather than attempting to transcend it. This is key. For theater to be effective, it should not be a spectator activity.

It is the job of the actor to bridge the gap that is implicitly created between themselves and their audience by the fourth wall, and this cast does just that, giving real, vulnerable performances and imbuing characters that could have easily descended into stock caricatures of middle-American suburbanites with refreshing heart and depth.

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The best example of this comes in the character of Mrs. Nordquist, the family’s spunky, perhaps slightly intrusive at times, next-door neighbor, played by Nancy Patton. Despite the character’s sparse appearances in the show — only showing up for a few brief exchanges in the first act — Patton commits to the character’s zany persona, making the part one of the show’s most memorable elements.

Campy, comical and bursting with heart, “Mom’s Gift” is an entertaining journey to the Norwegian Midwest and a testament to all the things that make community theater so valuable, so necessary and so unique.

Scotty Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.

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