Yo Hot Mama(s)! is a fun soul-searching pastiche of two one-woman shows, Yo Mama(s) written and performed by Natalie Kim, and Hot Mama Mahatma, written and performed by Karen Fitzgerald. Both pieces offer unique female perspectives and the yearning for self-discovery that sometimes can occur in the unlikeliest of places. Kim’s piece, a coming-of-age story about a young woman swirling in the confusion of the true meaning of “home” and the distinct experiences of herself and her three mothers. She embodies these by playing herself, as well as bringing life to a myriad of other characters, including her natural mother (and father), her adoptive mother, and stepmother. She also interacts with an offstage voice – a therapist – and places herself into key scenes from childhood, situations with her boyfriend in the present, and more recent excursions in search of herself, like to a New Age-style retreat center. Her inclusive 15-page script is incredibly tight and well written; at the same time, it is funny, sad, and sweet. Her portrayal of a character based on herself feels real, told with appropriate candor, but with enough distance to navigate through the emotional journey. Kim is a joy to watch. We delightfully spin along with her as she eventually rediscovers the place of her own heart, finally finding a home there, at the same time welcoming us in. It’s a beautiful work of personal storytelling and the search for identity and belonging.
The swift direction and blocking by Kenneth Heaton help the transitions between scenes and flashbacks, also utilizing sound cues from the different cultures or time periods. The black box space is ideal for the piece, as Kim fills the various areas with her crisply drawn characters, making their accompanying surroundings easy to imagine. All of the elements work well together to get right to the “heart of the matter,” so to speak.
The second, and somewhat longer piece, written and performed by Karen Fitzgerald, Hot Mama Mahatma, directed by Matt Hoverman, also features a soul-searching female character. This time, the character is a woman later in life experiencing a rebirth of sorts, getting in touch with her sexuality, which had been repressed for many years (or maybe always). The only problem is that her sensual awakening is happening while on a spiritual retreat (usually celibate) and during travels alone through India, which leads to many humorous situations and huge awkwardness, which Fitzgerald fully reveals, leaving no holds barred. It’s a brave work, as female sexuality is still largely uninvestigated in our culture, not found in the fairy-tale mindset of Cosmo quizzes, daytime soap operas, or marriage-competition reality shows that the American psyche still often seems so mired in. Fitzgerald clearly tries to express something more visceral, deep, and real.
Fitzgerald’s dance-like movements are lovely to watch, reminiscent of screen legend Rita Hayworth, and at times I could imagine her piece more fully realized and perhaps expanded into a musical comedy. The speeches tend to be a little long, and some of the situations repetitive, but she also portrays a number of familiar characters, as well as herself, with honesty and panache. It seems like musical dance numbers and a chorus of tempting foreign men could be called for, giving another layer to the je ne sais quoi romance, but Fitzgerald does bring that spirit to stage. Dressed in a gorgeous red dress and fully owning her story, she reveals everything she is both longing for and conflicted about. She also ultimately achieves self-realization, and I love that both women do so independently, and not necessarily by way of their men (as the fairy tale myth dictates). They both seem to demonstrate the lesson that it’s only a fulfilled woman who can truly, fully share herself with a man.
Described in the press materials as “Eat, Pray, Love run amok,” both pieces dovetail nicely together as a reflection of the current movement toward soul-searching, supported by such works as the inspirational Elizabeth Gilbert book, perhaps by way of the tell-it-like-it-is Mama Gena. Here, the main characters seek for their deeper selves, in one case for an answer to her intimacy problems, the other for a safe haven in which to revel in her rediscovered sensuality. Both Kim and Fitzgerald are skilled writers and performers, and they have deeply mined their own lives to create a moving, enjoyable, and intimate theater experience. Mother, may I? Oh yes, you may.