'Momma Don't' may mean well - but it's lame

Theater Review

September 20, 1990|By Mike Giuliano

The gospel truth according to the gospel music-filled play "Momma Don't" is that crack cocaine is as bad as anything the Devil ever sent our way.

Although there's no arguing with the sincerity of that message as it's loudly put across in the production at the Lyric Opera House, it seems no less obvious that the best of intentions can lead to the worst of plays.

"Momma Don't" sometimes soars musically, but dramatically it has only the stage of the Lyric to prevent it from sinking below ground.

The playbill listing of Jesus Christ as the show's "executive producer" admittedly makes one think twice before knocking this play, but one still comes away wanting to snort: "Momma, don't go on the stage."

As in other recent gospel-themed shows such as "Mama, I Want to Sing," "Momma Don't" indulges in such broad stereotypes within a threadbare plot that you wish the plot were scuttled entirely and the cast simply sang.

The story in "Momma Don't" concerns a woman raised within the church who becomes a crack addict for reasons worth more scripted mention than they get.

She turns to prostitution to support her habit, abuses her two young daughters and - well, you get the grim picture.

The author, Michael Matthews, based the play on his own brother's addiction.

Much of that personal pain comes through, but more as raw situation than as crafted drama.

Also, the pathos is cheapened by sitcom touches like the heavy hooker who struts out wearing a red miniskirt that leaves none of her bulk to the imagination.

You have to laugh when this whore uses her stomach as a weapon, but comedy this low makes it hard to work up any tears when they're called for.

The only dramatic performance of any professional worth is supplied by Ernest Harden Jr., familiar from the TV series "The Jeffersons."

He brings slick menace to his role as the dope-pushing pimp who controls the crack-addicted momma of the title.

Where musical performances are concerned, the show is perked up by some real gospel stars: two of the Clark Sisters and Lynette Hawkins Stephens from the Hawkins Family.

"Momma Don't" runs at the Lyric Opera House through Sept. 23. For ticket information, call 481-6000.

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