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Family tries – ‘I Remember Mama’

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Family tries – ‘I Remember Mama’ (photo courtesy Bangor Community Theatre)

BANGOR – A classic story about family life in the early 20th century is playing out on stage here in Bangor.

Bangor Community Theatre is presenting John van Druten’s “I Remember Mama” at the Bangor Grange Hall. Directed by Irene Dennis, the production runs through May 12.

Adapted from the book “Mama’s Bank Account” by Kathryn Forbes, it’s the story of the Hanson family living in San Francisco in the year 1910. Viewed through the eyes of one of the younger Hansons – one of the family’s first generation of native Americans – it’s a tale of the tight embrace of family ties, of what it means to have and to want, of the American Dream.

Young Katrin (Emma Paterson-Dennis) wants to be a writer. The story she tells us today is about her family. The Hansons are a proud bunch, doing whatever it takes to get by, struggling some but mostly doing OK. It’s all held together by Mama (Tracy Green), who takes charge of the household and makes sure everything works out. Papa (Blane Shaw) is a carpenter, a hard worker and gentle man. Her siblings – brother Nels (William Elefson) and sisters Christine (Abbie Green) and Dagmar (Edith Shirley Grey) – are generally kind, even if they do sometimes squabble as brothers and sisters do.

But there’s more to this sprawling clan. Katrin’s aunts – Jenny (Doreen Moody), Sigrid (Mary Norment) and Trina (Sue Amero) – are constant presences in the lives of the Hanson family. And looming large over the whole lot of them, the patriarchal head of the family, is the bombastic Uncle Chris (Roland Dube). Uncle Chris leads the way; as he goes, so the rest of the family follows.

We follow this family over the course of a few years as they deal with the trials and triumphs that come with the lives of immigrants in that time and place. They struggle with money, yet Mama and Papa still find ways to ensure that the children receive the education that they consider to be so very valuable. There are courtships of spinster aunts and barely-averted pet tragedies and occasional trips to the hospital for family members young and old alike.

Through it all Katrin clings to her dream of being a writer – a dream of which her parents (especially Mama) couldn’t be more supportive. And over and over again, we see Mama doing whatever it takes to ensure the well-being of her family.

There’s a real charm to a piece like “I Remember Mama.” It’s a throwback, to be sure; you don’t really see stories this optimistic anymore. It’s nice to enjoy something like this, a family story told with sincerity and charm. Honestly, there’s not a trace of irony here … and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Over the course of some 20-plus scenes, we watch as the story of this family ebbs and flows. Finding the rhythm of that ebb and flow – along with navigating the scenic transitions in a space with some limitations – is a task that falls to director Irene Dennis. There are a lot of moving parts to this piece – you’ve got 17 actors making their way through those 20-plus scenes. That is a significant number of plates to keep spinning, but keep them spinning she does.

As for the performers? Green is a beacon of bustling charm as Mama; she approaches the role with a quiet gentility that rests upon the strength of character beneath. Paterson-Dennis does fine work as our erstwhile narrator, finding the bubbling spirit and creative spark the character demands. And Dube is a blowhard delight as Uncle Chris, shuffling around the stage with the volume (and the charm) turned up to 11.

The sisters make for an engaging group. Moody’s Jenny is mean-spirited and Norment’s Sigrid is demanding, while Amero’s Trina is almost painfully innocent; it’s a good trio and they’re clearly having fun. Elefson, Green and Grey are solid as the siblings; there’s an acerbic quality to Green’s portrayal that makes her particularly stand out. Shaw finds some nice moments as the stoic man of the house.

Of course, a show like this one needs a full ensemble to fill it out. The rest of the cast – Alex Kearns, Jerry LaFevers, Balenda Ganem, Alex Green, Rachel Norment, Caroline Kelley and Nancy E. Dymond – does an admirable job inhabiting the world of the play. There are a couple of standouts – Kearns as the oratorically-engaging boarder Mr. Hyde and LaFever as the meek suitor to one of the aunts spring immediately to mind – but the truth is that everyone handles their business.

Look, there’s nothing edgy about “I Remember Mama.” There’s an almost relentless positivity pulsing throughout the entire story; even in the show’s occasional darker moments, that sense of cheerful determination shines through. And that’s OK. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with cynicism these days. It’s easy to dwell on the negativity. So why not embrace something that is neither of those things?

It’s not a perfect production, but so what? As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to community theatre, the rough edges are a feature, not a bug. There’s real passion and commitment up there on the BCT stage, and that’s what matters. Kudos to them for engaging in the act of creation and for opting to accentuate the positive.

There’s no doubt that they will never forget “I Remember Mama.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:43

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