MY LATEST ONE-WOMAN SHOW: MAMA DRAMA
How does one mine comedy from the very place they ran screaming from the moment they turned 18, you ask? Let us turn to science for the answer… to Einstein. I believe it was Albert Einstein who came up with his Theory of Relatives: Tragedy + Time = Comedy
Mary Birdsong’s latest solo show (MAMA DRAMA: this is gonna be hilarious) shines the blue light special on some touchy subjects- revealing the funny in food stamps, the wacky in welfare, & the madcap manipulation that only a southern mama can provide. Mama Drama is a show that Birdsong has spent her whole LIFE preparing for, though she didn’t know it til about two years ago. In 2010, she performed a live reading of a short piece she wrote for the live stage show, “Sit and Spin.” (Sit ‘n’ Spin is an L.A.-based show in which authors, comics, and writers of all stripes read autobiographical, somewhat “confessional” pieces they’ve written for a live audience.) The piece Mary read was entitled “Happy Mother’s Day,” and the actual holiday was just around the corner.
It was a piece she was terrified to do… about her own, complicated, Southern mama. (She’d recently returned from a hellacious visit with her mom in South Jersey, and was still seething from it. But when she sat down to try to write about it for Sit ‘n’ Spin, what came out was not what she’d expected. She suddenly wasn’t angry anymore. And she wasn’t even sure if this thing was even funny.) She had a backup piece that was a much safer bet– a sure-fire laugher. But for whatever reason, she knew she had to read this piece about her mom in public. She knew she couldn’t just go out there and be funny and still be satisfied. She needed to let herself tell the story that was TRUE. And punchlines, be damned!
Performing it live was the SECOND TIME the piece surprised her. They laughed. Hard. And usually right after she said something really harsh, and edgy, and even MEAN.
Since that initial reading in front of a crowd who (to her bemusement) seemed to want to know more about her mama’s drama, Mary has continued to hone and refine the piece, adding rock songs, country songs, a four-piece rock band, and script genius Eric Gilliland. It was Eric himself who (after having read Mary’s original Sit ‘n’ Spin piece in an anthology of short stories) who suggested that the two of them collaborate on something for the stage, based on her story.
Mama Drama received it’s premier in Los Angeles at Comedy Central Stage. Since then Mary has performed it at The Fake Gallery in Hollywood and at Joe’s Pub in NYC. Written By Mary Birdsong, and directed by Eric Gilliland (perhaps best known for his work as head writer/exec producer on the ABC series Roseanne), this show is a sharp departure from Birdsong’s normal fare. Birdsong is know mostly for her work as a character actress, sketch comedian, and improviser, playing a wide range of characters nothing LIKE herself. In fact, “the further away from real self the better ” was her motto. In stark contrast to that policy, Birdsong is delving into some pretty scary, and at times vulnerable, autobiographical material. But the magic of this show in particular is that Birdsong manages to walk a tightrope– constantly on edge– and at times going to some pretty dark places while performing this balancing act between high hilarity and falling into some deep shit. Mary examines issues of shame, pride, and the powerful healing properties of Dolly Parton!