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The Baltimore Sun

Venus Theatre grows up with 'Punk Rock Mom'

When the Ramones released "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment" in 1977, the punk rock band hadn't a clue that their provocative antiestablishment lyrics would one day set the tone for a story about fierce parental love.

Thirty-five years later, pop punk has been adopted by the mainstream. Baby boomers who idolized bands such as the Ramones, the Clash, Clampdown and Nick Cave have mostly shed their studs and leather along the road to middle age. And Columbine Award-winning screenwriter Alyson Mead has written an extraordinary new play that pays tribute to the punk rock movement and to the circle of life.

Directed by Venus Theatre founder Deborah Randall, "Punk Rock Mom" is premiering at the Venus Theatre Play Shack on C Street this month. As hard-edged as the breakneck music that spills from the black box theater during performances, the script's theme focuses clearly on a very human rite of passage. The show contains partial nudity, sexually explicit language and depictions of drug use that are appropriate only for mature audiences.

Randall has returned to the stage after a five-year absence to play the title character, Jamie Fontaine, an ex-punk rocker and soon-to-be grandma in full identity crisis. The stellar cast also includes Ann Fraistat, last seen in Venus Theatre's "A Girl Named Destiny," as Joan, Jamie's illegitimate daughter named after Joan Jett; and James Waters as Mark, Jamie's amicable IT-generation husband.

Queen V. Suyat returns to the stage after four years of working mostly in film to play Aster, Jamie's long-time marijuana-smoking confidant. Christopher Williams is Marlon, Jamie's gay brother; and Alex Zavistovich appears in dual roles as Cliff and Jerry, a middle-aged rocker and a Buddhist monk—men that Jamie slept with in her youth.

Set in present-day northern California, the show opens to a 40ish-looking tattooed woman vacuuming in time with the Ramones. Hints of her wild youth are apparent only in her mildly provocative wardrobe and the pink stripe in Jamie's disheveled blond hair.

When daughter Joan drops in to announce that she's expecting a baby, Jamie's counter-clockwise journey begins.

Ultra-conservative and married, Joan and Mark have planned their pregnancy carefully, and Jamie's subdued reaction is not what her daughter expects. As Joan, Fraistat's deep anger at her mother's inept maternity is so tangible that it's hard to get a handle on exactly where the resentment comes from: her illegitimacy or something else?

From the beginning it is obvious that Jamie loves her confrontational daughter, even when they fight. For Joan's sake, Jamie decides to search Facebook for the four men who could be Joan's father. Her plan is to ask for DNA samples from each and have them tested to identify the baby's grandfather.

This leads Jamie back in time to repeat some of her least-mature sexual exploits, to the delight of Aster and the disgust of Joan, who doesn't know what Jamie has set out to do before being caught in a chase for her own lost youth.

Only Suyat's Aster knows what Jamie's up to, because Jamie confides all to her while they're toking together.

"You're high," Aster laughs. "You're about to be a grandmother, and you're high."

By Act 2, it is questionable whether Jamie will ever grow up. Songs like "Bastards of Young" by the Replacements, and "Should I Stay" by the Clash accompany her escapades, with the volume always masterfully controlled by sound designer Neil McFadden.

When unforeseen circumstances force Jamie to get focused, much more than the identity of Joan's father is revealed before the music is done. During an intense monologue, Randall as Jamie unleashes her own singing voice in a fleeting a cappella moment that is well worth waiting for.

As the director, Randall carefully balances the degree of explicitness in the sex scenes that feature Jamie and Cliff and Jamie and Jerry, which she and Zavistovich play beautifully.

But Williams' shrewd portrayal of Jamie's brother, Marlon, reveals the most insight into what makes Jamie tick because it touches on her relationship with her own mother.

With the assistance of the rest of her creative team—set and light designer Amy Rhodes, costume designer Marilyn Johnson and stage manager Lynda Burdette—Randall delivers a tight, poignant production that's at least as much about the continuity of life and the real meaning of love as it is about a music subculture.

"Punk Rock Mom" is part of Venus Theatre's Bold Hope 2012 season, which Randall has said she is dedicating to Tyler Cordrey, his dog Roscoe and Dan Denike, C Street neighbors and Laurel residents tragically lost in a boating accident last December; as well as to Taylor Rogers, Cordrey's fiance who survived the accident.

"Punk Rock Mom" continues through May 27, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. (no show on Friday, May 25), at the Venus Theatre Play Shack, 21 C St. General admission is $18. Buy tickets online at venustheatre.org or call 866-811-4111 for reservations. Playwright Alyson Mead will be in attendance the last week in May.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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