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LIKE 'MOTHER GINGER,' LIKE DAUGHTER

Another opening, another show.

Actually, another world premiere -- Larry Gray's "Mother Ginger" at Alleyway Theatre, certainly not an unusual event at Neal Radice's always-busy and very often inventive acting company.

Alleyway specializes in original stage works, after all. Impresario Radice is not shy about offering his hall as a forum for fledgling writers.

Larry Gray is not a novice anymore, of course. For more than a decade he has been a regular at the Alleyway -- "Upstream, Downstream," "Louisiana Trilogy," "Your's Truly" and others -- and now he has returned with a disturbing, albeit chatty, story of teenage alcoholism and families in crisis.

Dance teacher Carol a recovering alcoholic, is going through a hard time. She's broke, she's sleeping on a futon in her studio, the phone has been disconnected, and she's hurt her leg. Carol is also worried about her daughter, Dorie, ostensibly a together teenager -- pretty, popular, honor roll, soccer midfielder. But she suspects the girl has inherited the "gene," the one that sent Mom on a nose dive some 17 years ago -- a love of booze, secret sipping before or even during school, leading to a sleep-around lifestyle, a failed marriage and ultimately, her current state.

So Carol frets. She asks for and gets advice from her friend, Fat Rat, a paraplegic with other paralyzed body parts understandably lamented. Carol's landlord, Tuffy, hits on her regularly but might yet save her studio. Her ex-husband's patience is running out and threatens to end her weekend visits with Dorie. And, her leg is killing her. Back in her drinking days, Jack Daniels would have solved all this.

A car accident brings everything to the fore. Dorie and others, drinking and driving, are hurt. Everyone rallies. An intervention of sorts is held, not an in-your-face one exactly, but close.

It's too neat and easy, but Dorie realizes how close she is to ruin, and comes out of denial and promises to stay clean and sober. Carol is temporarily calmed. "I've heard all of these speeches before," she says to Fat Rat. "Yeah, well now you have to give them," he says.

"Mother Ginger," so titled after the shepherding character from "The Nutcracker," can be intense, but there are lighter moments. Carol's daily sparring sessions with Fat Rat are fun and full of fire, and her fending off the transparent Tuffy is a diversion from the play's serious themes.

But the night can aggravate. One more mention of Carol's hamstring and audiences might be tempted to put Gray on injured reserve. Likewise, Fat Rat's mantra: "You got that right." Larry Gray's talent for writing fast and real dialogue goes on holiday occasionally.

Gray has created great female characters in the past and has done so again with Carol. Lisa Vitrano, at last in a truly mature role, is heart-wrenching in her worry and probably will cause many a parent of teenagers to call home during intermission. Wound tight, a nervous wreck, the past painful, the present a mess, the future dim, Lisa's Carol is inspiring in many ways. Terrific.

Others in the fine cast include David Hall as Clay the ex-husband, and John F. Kennedy as Fat Rat; both actors make their Alleyway debuts impressive ones. Reliable veterans Stephanie Bax-Fontanella and the returning Michael Mirand are strong, and 17-year-old Jeanna Stanley, an Alleyway staple for a decade, is a believable Dorie. Scary stuff here; a difficult role carried out well by young Stanley.

This is a no-nonsense effort by the Alleyway team: Director Radice, costumer Joyce Stilson and set designer Todd Warfield. Solid work by everybody.< REVIEW
"Mother Ginger"

Rating: * * *

Drama by Larry Gray.

Premiere production directed by Neal Radice.

Continues through Nov. 24 in Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley.

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