“Mama” evokes a time gone by

It’s hard to believe now that there was a time without television, without computers, cell phones, DVRs or iPads ... it was a time preserved now only in sepia-toned nostalgia, a simpler time when family and human interactions mattered the most.

If you need a reminder of that kinder, gentler era, then this weekend’s production of “I Remember Mama” at Sherburne-Earlville is definitely for you.

The play by Jon VanDruten, based on Kathryn Forbes’ fictionalized memoir, “Mama’s Bank Account,” tells the story of the Hansons, a loving, close-knit family of Norwegian immigrants living in San Francisco in the early 1910s.

I could give you a run-down of the plot, but it’s really not necessary. Nothing earth-shatteringly dramatic happens in “I Remember Mama,” really. It’s a series of low-key vignettes told through the eyes of Katrin, one of the Hanson children who aspires to be a writer. Older brother Nels wants to go to high school, so the family has to make sacrifices to come up with the tuition. Little Dagmar has surgery, and Mama devises a plot to sneak into the hospital to see her. The family cat becomes ill, and is miraculously cured. Uncle Chris dies. Mama helps Katrin get her work published. Again, nothing terribly compelling, plot-wise.

But what is compelling about “I Remember Mama” are the relationships between the characters – and anyone with a large extended (and at least partially dysfunctional) family can relate. There are some beautiful characterizations in “Mama” – icons, really, of people we know and love (or wanted to know and love) from our own faded past.

The kids in the Sherburne-Earlville Drama Club haven’t disappointed me yet. And while I wasn’t particularly excited to see the play Wednesday night, they won me over with their heartfelt portrayals of a family which puts those relationships above all else.

Confession: Although I was rapt with attention during the first act, my mind couldn’t help wandering back to the cult-classic slasher film from the 70s, “I Dismember Mama.” Not the same show. Just a little insight into how my mind works.

Back to Sherburne-Earlville. Although the play is told through the eyes and words of Katrin (Haley Muth, endearing in the ingenue role), the stage really belongs to Mama, Marta Hanson. Here, she’s played to perfection by Emilee Smith, easily my favorite among S-E’s current troupe. She’s one of those high school thespians I frequently laud for being completely un-self-conscious on stage, easily able to lose herself in the role. And while Mama is hardly an over-the-top character, your eyes are glued to her wherever she goes. Here, she’s supported well by her eccentric sisters – the dreaded Aunts the Hanson children fear to see coming up the path. They’re played by Lulu Riley, Zoe Enscoe and Margaret Dushko, each imbuing their characters with equal parts idiosyncrasy and pathos. They work well together as a team, highly believable as bickering sisters.

The titular head of the family though is the blustery Uncle Chris, the “Black Swede” who rules the family with an outward iron fist, but really has a gentle heart. On the S-E stage this weekend, he’s played by Jeff Taylor, another standout whose naturally deep, booming voice lends itself perfectly to the prickly character. He’s got great comedic timing, too – particularly in his scenes with poor Mr. Thorkelson (played by a hilarious Bobby Marvin), who desperately wants his approval to marry one of the Aunts.

Also bringing to life the characters in “I Remember Mama” are Eric Muth as Papa, Catherine Behret as Dagmar, Geana Giglio as Christine, Brent Guiles as Nels and Chris Weinell as Mr. Hyde. The cast also includes Ethan Cameron, Liz Farrow, Claire Khoury, Stephanie Staley, Shannon Staley, Joelle Clark, Kayla Osterndorff, Mary Longman, Joe Corey, Mike Holeck, Mike Harlost, Craig Natoli, Molly Ogden, Mick Khoury, Taylor Morris, Rachel Walters, Matt Smith and Liza Taylor. And someone’s cat, I presume, as “Uncle Elizabeth.”

“I Remember Mama,” under the expert direction as always of Colleen Law-Tefft, will be staged at 7 p.m. tonight and Saturday in the S-E auditorium. Tickets will be sold at the door.

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