THE DESCRIPTIVENESS IS GREAT BUT THE STORYTELLING NEEDS WORK IN "WARM CHEESE"
Mom. It’s one of the few things all of us have in common, and she is perhaps the most important relationship any of us will ever have. Some moms nurture, some abuse. Some do a little of both. Some moms inspire, some discourage. Some are peculiar and some are positively nuts. In the one-person memoir which just opened at the Hollywood Fringe, writer Teresa L. Thome sums her mother up as a “mildly neurotic control freak.” That would appear to be an understatement.
With descriptive, precise, detailed dialogue—“Faygo Rock N’ Rye” pop and the avocado green of 1970s’ interior design—Thome evokes not only the feel of Michigan but the specificity of a Michigan housewife and hospital employee who clearly came from a dysfunctional background. Details about mom’s upbringing that may have led to her fixations and phobias are strangely absent, but the information about her conduct is fascinating. This is a mom who, between threatening to haunt her children as punishment for bad behavior and vilifying her husband for eating junk food, littered the house with myriad Xeroxed copies of her DNR order, and always kept American cheese slices in her purse.
Constantly battling health issues (which may have been caused by pent up anger), Thome’s mom was in and out of the hospital, and it is her death that incites Thome’s one-hour monologue. With a family of zanies (including a psychic) gathered for the funeral, Thome finds herself going through mom’s stuff. Director Stan Zimmerman has recreated areas of the Midwest home, such as a dresser and a clothes rack with mom’s actual outfits, including a burnt-orange piece with the left breast area cut out when mom had shingles. There were odors—including smoke—that smelled as if “she laundered with a detergent called ‘Bingo Night’.” But as Thome recalls to us mom’s wardrobe and some of the items discovered while going through mom’s drawers, including a journal that she starts reading aloud to her family, it becomes apparent that this experience is of much more interest to her than to us. Slides overhead, which occasionally went unnoticed, could have been used to better effect.
It may have been nerves, or Thome’s inexperience as an actor, or a childhood too painful to connect with, but she seemed strangely removed from her own story. Her delivery is a constant, almost manic, flood of information that informs a physicality of thigh slapping and heavy breathing. Even in the end, when she comes to a realization about her mom, the emotions feel forced and somewhat insincere. Fascinatingly enough, Thome becomes most alive when she is impersonating her mother vitriolically demeaning family members. What holds our attention is the portrayal of a weird woman, whose husband of 49 years said shortly after her death that losing her was like taking a really good crap.