When artist and playwright Pat Masumoto first came up with the idea to create a tribute to her then-100-year-old mother, Florence Hasegawa, she never imagined the humble production - made up of a series of stories about moms by professional and nonprofessional writers and read by professional and nonprofessional actors/readers - would jump the Pacific and spread throughout the Mainland. It's a process Masumoto likens, aptly enough, to giving birth.
"I didn't know what would happen," she said, "I hadn't realized it would be such a gigantic baby! What an intense labor of love for all of us."
Since its debut on Maui last year, productions of "My Mama Monologues" have been springing up in Kauai, Colorado and Canada.
Florence Hasegawa, in 1937 at a Lahaina studio and in 2008 at a Lahaina Bon Dance
It turns out we have a lot to say about the confounding, comforting, heroic, bossy, funny, quirky, irritating, selfless, critical, mysterious creature we call Mom. Masumoto received hundreds of submissions from Hawaii and beyond for this year's show, which runs over Mother's Day weekend in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's McCoy Studio Theater; she selected what she refers to as "good telling" stories - some knee-slappers, some heart-wrenchers and a few jaw-droppers.
"There are many, many layers of emotion. The process of writing and telling a story about your mother is a real healing process," Masumoto explained.
The format and purpose of "Mama Monologues" is similar to that of Eve Ensler's Valentine's Day staple "The Vagina Monologues." Both productions seek to raise awareness of the impact and importance of their subject by presenting real-life stories; both are indelibly linked to a specific holiday, enriching its meaning, exchanging lightweight "Hallmark" sentiment for something deeper and more authentic. The relationship between mother and child is visceral and intense, yet we seldom explore the duality at its core - the simultaneous desire for connection and independence. It's not all flowers and brunches, after all.
"When we talk about our mothers, it's often about how they sometimes drive us crazy!" Masumoto laughed.
She recalled a monologue from last year written by an elderly Scandinavian woman who was in hospice. Knowing she had very little time to live, she wanted to leave behind a permanent image and idea of her hard-working mother and saw "Mama Monlogues" as an opportunity to share her mother with the world. In the story, she recalled how her mother would haul a huge load of laundry to the icy stream down the road from their home every single day and wash each piece of clothing by hand. It spoke of perseverance, stoicism and stamina, but most of all it spoke of a mother's love and how it can take many forms. When it came time for her story to be read onstage, Maui Memorial Medical Center staff wheeled this frail woman into the theater so she could hear her words reverberating through the room and know that everyone in the theater could see her mother leaning over that frigid stream, dipping and wringing her children's socks, wool trousers, mittens and sweaters, lovingly.
This year's production promises to be no less moving, surprising and funny than last year's.
Pat Masumoto summed it up perfectly:
"People should walk in prepared to have their eyes opened, their minds blown."
When was the last time Mother's Day had that effect on you?
Pro-Arts of the Pacific presents "Cinderella" in its brand new Kihei Playhouse in Azeka Makai Shopping Center, May 14-30. This fractured musical version of the familiar story is boistrous, wacky fun for the whole family. For information and tickets, $12 for adults, $10 children 10 and younger and seniors 65 and older, call 875-4367 or visit www.proartspacific.com.
St. Anthony Drama Club presents its Variety Show at the Bailey House Museum in Wailuku on at 6 p.m. Friday, May 14. Tickets are $5. Call 249-0234 for more information.
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents comedian Jim Gaffigan in Castle Theater at 8 p.m. Friday, May 21. Ticket prices are $35 and $45 plus applicable fees, available through the MACC box office, 242-7469 or by logging on to www.mauiarts.org.