Stage Preview: Mother Knows Best

We talk to four artists who'll be telling you about their mommy issues.

Of course Richard Hugo House asked former Seattleite and ascendant TV star Lauren Weedman to dig into her self-immolating psyche to pen and perform a short piece for Mother Knows Best. Yes, she's known to a greater number of viewers as Horny Patty, the office nympho on HBO's Hung—a vanity-free performance that easily steals the show (on which she's also a staff writer). But local stage audiences remember Weedman from her many lacerating solo works in which, among other characters, she portrayed her infuriatingly unflappable mother in dead-on detail. So how did Mom feel about the somewhat unflattering portrait? "I think she likes it," says Weedman. "Now she leans into her quirks more when I'm around, acting loopy just because she thinks that's the way I see her." Obsessed with her status as a misunderstood adopted child, Weedman will be the first to tell you that mother/daughter communication is often strained, even in celebratory moments. Consider the time Weedman's comic confessional A Woman Trapped in a Woman's Body was published in 2007: "My mother said, 'Oh, thank goodness; I hope this leads to something.' And I said, 'This is it, Mom—this is the something.'" Yet it's Weedman herself, as usual, who'll provide the bigger target tonight. Her recent foray into motherhood was the basis of her touring show No . . . You Shut Up, which had its Seattle premiere last spring at Hugo House, and she admits the subject still grips her. "Initially, I thought I'd try to take a different approach and write about the sky or the sea or something," Weedman cracks with mock loftiness. "You know: 'In a way, I've always felt the ocean was my mother.' But . . . I'm writing about the anxiety attack after I had my baby. It hit me super-hard. I thought, 'I'm bringing my child into this cycle of suffering. This child is going to know that eventually it's going to die.' I couldn't believe I'd never thought about that before." Heavy stuff? Sure. But likely also quite funny, when given the Weedman treatment. SW  Stacey Levine knows she owes plenty to her mom—including her career. "She helped make me very aware of language, and what it can do," says the longtime Seattle writer. "She's hugely inventive with language and very vivid in the way she talks." And while Levine has "definitely got my rocks out about mothers and family" in her previous work (two well-received novels and a collection of short stories), "there's always more to say." For Mother Knows Best, part of the ongoing Hugo Literary Series, she's written a piece that explores a close mother/son relationship during the '60s. Readers of her work will be unsurprised to hear there's "a paranormal element to it." Conventional realism is not her style. The sentences can be as strange and fractured as the vision. "There's a lot of pressure on mothers," Levine observes. "They're generally the ones in charge of impressionable, helpless children. We all have a shadow side, as Jung says. A side full of infantile rage, needs, hunger. Mothers are not exempt from that." This won't be the first time that Levine has participated in one of the Hugo House events. She previously wrote on family tensions in a piece she describes as "a limit case," about parents who couldn't stand the idea of their kids leaving them and want to get their son and daughter married. That story found its way into her newest collection of short stories, The Girl With Brown Fur, to be published next spring. Live stage performances can be especially nerve-wracking for a shy writer (unlike the energetic Weedman). "There's lights on your face—and it's a new work that you probably just finished," says Levine. "It's not like over at Pilot Books [a small Capitol Hill shop], where you can sit on the floor and be in a yoga stretch while you read." MDF  When Zoe Muth was asked to write three original songs about mothers, she wasn't sure how to approach the topic. "I have a great relationship with my mom," says Muth. The commission from Hugo House seemed to describe the paradigmatic maternal relationship as being fraught with dysfunction—the stuff of sad country songs. But, says Muth, "I kinda wondered, 'Well, why did they ask me this?' I don't think it was necessarily because of [past] songs I had written that were specifically about moms." In truth, most of Muth's country-inflected ballads are stories in the tradition of the Louvin Brothers and Loretta Lynn. Songs about broken hearts and bad relationships dominate her 2009 debut album, Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, though in real life she lives happily with her boyfriend. As we talk over beers at the Lockspot Cafe—one of the last bastions of old Ballard, where Muth grew up—her quiet disposition gives no sign of family torment or mommy issues. Sitting under a pair of oars signed by the cast of Deadliest Catch, she relates how fans who've heard her song "Never Be Fooled Again"—about a young girl whose father abandons their family—have approached her to commiserate about this supposed family tragedy. It's awkward to have to politely explain to them that her folks are, in fact, still together. For Mother Knows Best, however, Muth says she's sticking closer to reality: "For the most part, all the songs that I ended up writing really respected the role of motherhood. Two of them are really about how great I think my mom is. And another one is . . . probably how I would feel if I was a mom, and for some reason I had a husband that didn't come home until late at night, and I got stuck being the one taking care of the kid all the time." SB  Cartoonist David Lasky is deep into a graphic novel about the Carter Family when we interrupt him to ask about mothers. At almost 200 pages, he says, "It's way bigger than anything I've done before. It's at least a year from completion." Likely to be published in 2012, Don't Forget This Song has immersed him in the matrilineal world of gospel and folk music—three generations of women, all mothers, who performed from 1927 into the 1980s as the Carter Family. "I picked up their CDs at the library and wondered 'Who are these people?'," he recalls. "The sound you hear is mostly women. They're kind of proto-feminist. That really appealed to me." But for Friday's show, says Lasky, "I decided to create something completely different. It's a short story about a single mom who is a huge fan of Superman, and it's told from her son's POV." In his story, called "Mother Knows Best," the mom is so devoted to the DC Comics icon that she publishes a zine on Superman, so Lasky and a few collaborators created one, too—a zine within an illustrated story—that'll be available come Friday. One problem, Lasky acknowledges, is that he's been so busy with the Carters that, for Mother Knows Best, "I haven't actually done the drawings yet. I have no idea what I'll accomplish in the time I've got. I'll try for color. The illustrations will be projected onto a screen." Interestingly, Superman has two mothers: Lara on the planet Krypton, surrogate mother Ma Kent on Earth. But in general, Lasky muses, mothers are somewhat rare in traditional comics. "With few exceptions, something about being an orphan allows Bruce Wayne or Little Orphan Annie to go off and have adventures without moms saying, 'No, you can't do that.' The only mother I can think of is Sue Richards in the Fantastic Four, but she was an anomaly. Or Blondie." BRM

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