PAWTUCKET - Politics isn't bull, as Bernie Sanders has noted, but it can be downright hysterical when playwright George Brant has a turn at it.Brant's play "Grizzly Mama," now on stage at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, is a darkly comedic look at liberal politics and the memories of off-beat Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Perhaps the biggest joke of all in the show is Brant's disclaimer that "any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."
Really? The show opens in a rustic hunter's cabin in a small town in Alaska, next door to Patti "The Patriot" Turnbeck, who is running for president on an anti-feminism platform. A self-proclaimed "Grizzly Mama," Turnbeck attacks the liberal feminist agenda, instead espousing domesticity and caring for one's cubs.
Her new next-door neighbors are Deb and Hannah Marshall. Deb has spent a lifetime as a Grizzly Mama, hosting book clubs, baking and doting on her only child, much to the chagrin of her feminist mother. She was sent to Wellesley to become a warrior and disappointed her mother by marrying a doctor and never working at all. When her mother, who authored such pointed books as "The Female Judas," dies, Deb finds herself on a mission to continue her fight.
She has brought her teenage daughter to the wilderness to kill the Grizzly Mama - for "womankind's good," she tells Hannah. She hopes this will redeem her for living a life that rejected her mother's ideology - "She changed the world and I baked cookies!"
Armed with guns and even cyanide, Deb's plan is sidetracked slightly when Turnbeck's teenage daughter Laurel shows up needing help. In the process, Laurel and Hannah become friends and, of course, the best of plans go awry.
Brant is a wickedly funny and brilliant writer who weaves heartache and agonizing decisions with clever quips, puns and funny jabs. The combination works to create meaningful messages that give the audience pause and make them think when they catch their breath from the belly laughter.
This is the second Brant production The Gamm has chosen to stage - last year's interpretation of "Grounded" was also memorable. Director Rachel Walshe truly gets the intent of the play and creates a production that is powerful as well as completely entertaining. From the forest of birch trees erected on one end of the stage that serves as a chilling backdrop for the final scenes, to the pace at which she allows the plot to unfold, to the often humorous soundtrack she's created ("Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC plays at one point), she has crafted a unique experience.
The cast is also stellar. Casey Seymour Kim is the perfect actress for Deb. She is so animated and her range of emotions is seemingly limitless. Her voice, facial expressions and body language morph quickly from agitated mania surrounding Deb's plan to redeem herself in her dead mother's eyes, to wistful remembrance of a fun trip to the Finger Lakes when Hannah was younger, to sheer anger at the actions of the Judas in their midst.
Hannah is played by Amanda Ruggiero, also a perfect casting move. Ruggiero is wonderful when playing a sullen teenager, and scenes when she is ghost texting on the phone her mother destroyed, her fingers moving furiously in the air "like a phantom limb," are hysterical. She has great depth emotionally as well, and infuses more than just teenage surliness into the role. She struggles against Deb's ideas with genuine humanity and it's beautiful to witness.
Gamm relative newcomer Betsy Rinaldi is perhaps the comic genius in the show as she interprets Brant's character Laurel as a ditzy rich girl. Her befuddled reactions are genuine and riotous, but she is also able to conjure sympathy as a lost girl who just longs for guidance from a mother who is never around.
The Gamm continues its winning season with "Grizzly Mama." This is a funny, impactful two hours that might help put the rest of the politicking into perspective.
"Grizzly Mama" runs through Feb. 7 at The Gamm, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket. For tickets, go to www.gammtheatre.org or call 401-723-4266.