Shelterbelt Theatre continues to fulfill its mission, bringing to life plays by local writers. This time it debuts The Motherhood Almanac by actor Noah Diaz. Young Diaz is most often seen in character or comic roles. Here, it looks as if he intends to be serious, avoiding light-heartedness, broad comedy, wackiness or far-out experimentation.
His earnest material deals with such subjects as mother/daughter relationships, abortion, adoption, death of a child or of a parent and lesbian involvements. He’s created a series of 10 sometimes overlapping scenes, anchored by returning often to one of them wherein an expectant woman, oddly, writes notes to her future child on Burger King napkins which she rumples and discards.
The six capable woman in the cast take a variety of roles of characters without names, who occasionally interact across the scenes. In the performance I attended, some delivered their lines with more clarity than others. Director Moira Mangiameli paced everything well, even when the dialogue felt more drawn out than necessary.
Some scenes are identified by year, projected on a screen, even though the content seems timeless. A few characters directly address the audience as if speaking at public meetings, talking about themselves. In one, a mother tries to pass along her wisdom about how to be the best mother, reading talking points from paper towels. There Sue Mouttet gives the most tender and true performance of them all, sincere and believable. Amusingly, what she says might even refer to Diaz himself, when she says not to expect perfection.
The scenes explore subjects rather than delving into character and no major conflicts emerge. At times, Diaz inventively weaves in a few cross-references from scene to scene. His writing, with its natural and unforced dialogue, seems more straightforward than eloquent, more sympathetic than judgmental.
Mangiameli perceptively uses all the spaces and angles of Cea Larkin’s colorful set. She also places a massive pile of discarded, crumpled napkins next to the expectant mother’s seat. Possibly this is a symbolic suggestion that there are many stories to tell or that Diaz kept revising his writing, discarding much material. Or both.
His program notes talk about his intentions, saying, among other things, that he is still learning about life from his own mother. Here Diaz also is learning how to create theatre from the inside, putting together words and ideas for other performers to interpret. How fortunate that Shelterbelt gives him the chance to see the results.
The Motherhood Almanac runs through Feb.19 at Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California St. Thurs-Sat.: 8 p.m. Sun: 6 p.m. 2/19: 2 p.m. Tickets: $12-$20