Mom’s the Word: Talkin’ Turkey is not a turkey

publicity photo for Mom's the Word: Talkin' Turkey

I didn’t enjoy the number, but Barbara Clayden’s costumes are pretty great in this riff on The Nutcracker.
That’s Deborah Williams, Alison Kelly, Barbara Pollard, Robin Nichol, and Jill Daum.
They are on Pam Johnson’s set.
(Photo: Moonrider Productions)

I cried. I was bored. I laughed. Mom’s the Word: Talkin’ Turkey, the latest in the Mom’s the Word series, is inconsistent but, when it lands, you feel it.

The Mom’s the Word shows date way back to 1993, when a group of theatre professionals, who were all raising young kids, got together to create a performance about motherhood for the Women in View festival. Hilarious and moving, the first Mom’s the Word became an international hit, and five of the six original creators have kept pumping out sequels since then. This one is about the challenges of the Christmas holidays — and the specific stresses of sharing them with your adult kids, aging parents, and in one instance, a dead spouse.

All of the stories are personal to the women who perform them, and they’re presented in a revue format that includes heartfelt sharing, outrageous anecdotes, and occasional songs.

I’m a fan of the heartfelt sharing and the lashings of wit. In a prime example, Alison Kelly remembers a Christmas when she hung a thousand origami cranes over the crib of her tiny, premature son, who was in the neonatal intensive care unit, willing him to survive. Then Deb Williams cuts in with, “He lived. He’s 34. You’ve got to find a better story.”

Williams has created and performs some of the strongest material, including a sequence in which, though initially resistant, she is seduced by Costco and buys the place out. (This scene ends with an excellent visual cue.) I also particularly enjoyed Alison Kelly’s fairy tale about the approaching “Day of the Further Oppression of Women, also known as Christmas.” And, when Jill Daum’s narrative, which weaves its way through the evening, found its feet, it was one of the threads that moved me most: in it, she struggles to open her heart to her daughter’s boyfriend without the in-person support and counsel of her deceased — yet present and generous — husband John.

The thing about the revue format, though, is that sometimes it’s only as good as the moment you’re in. That’s especially true in this iteration of Mom’s the Word: there are a handful of ongoing narratives, but none is consistently compelling enough to power the evening. And much of the material that didn’t work for me feels formulaic: take a story of a parenting mishap, blow it up to  outrageous proportions, and add swearing to get laughs.

For me, the songs that involve lip syncing fail. The convention of the performers singing to the recorded sounds of their own voices has popped up before in the Mom’s the Word universe and it always feels phony. The generic wackiness of the Act 1 and Act 2 musical finales —  Act 2 ends with a Nutcracker send-up — is so much less clever than the show’s best comic material.

But every one of the performers is engaging. And Pam Johnson’s advent-calendar set is a gigantic, entertaining toy.

Talkin’ Turkey engaged me for most of the beginning of Act 1, then it slid. Act 2 was stronger.

Bottom line: I’m glad to see these women onstage again. It means something that Mom’s the Word has become a Vancouver tradition.

MOM’S THE WORD: TALKIN’ TURKEY Created by the Mom’s the Word Collective: Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard, and Deborah Williams. Directed by Wayne Harrison. An Arts Club Theatre production on October 28. Running at the Granville Island Stage until January 1. Tickets and information

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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