On motherhood Actress Kathryn Grody revels in the wonders of 'A Mom's Life'


You have to get my bike fixed. I want to ride it in the park!" That's Gideon, Kathryn Grody's 4-year-old, reminding her that it is time to get off the phone.

"I cannot remember who I used to be before this totally dependent-on-me creature came . . . " That's Kathryn Grody, mother of two little boys, reminding her audience that a mom's life is simply not her own.

Tomorrow, Grody, a two-time Obie winner with television and film credits including "Kate and Allie, "My Bodyguard," "Whose Life is it Anyway" and "The Lemon Sisters," spills the sloppy facts of bedtime, Legos and cereal in her one-woman show at Westminster Hall.

"A Mom's Life" is the antidote to a mom's life. For Grody, wife of actor Mandy Patinkin, star of Broadway hits such as "Evita," "Sunday in the Park with George," and featured in movies such as "Yentl," "The Princess Bride" "Alien Nation" and "Dick Tracy," writing and performing this piece was a way of retrieving her own subsumed ego. It is also a play of maternal solidarity that proves life with kids can be infuriating, but never vanilla-bland.

"I think it answered a lot of needs I was feeling," says Grody by phone from her Manhattan apartment, speaking about her creation. Gideon romps in the background, and demands first aid for his flat bicycle tire. "I felt transported to this other 'mom' time nobody else lived in except other mothers.

"I didn't know I would be a completely obsessional parent. Lo and behold you have these feelings. I was getting frustrated that I wasn't seeing this on TV, the theater or films, any of this . . . I felt a great urge to tap into what I felt was a common dilemma: how to have sane children, and stay that way yourself, and have a relationship to boot."

"A Mom's Life" is earthy and easy for upscale baby boomers married with children to relate to. It is not so much a literary benchmark, as a primer to the rapture and the despair a stay-at-home mother with options might experience.

One reviewer -- a woman -- called Grody's piece "probably the best one-woman play ever written about the joys and frustrations of post-feminist, over-educated, middle-class urban motherhood."

Another reviewer -- a man -- called "A Mom's Life" a "long, ranting whine. It might also be argued that there are worse situations than having a wealthy husband and the freedom to raise your children full-time in a sprawling rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side."

"A Mom's Life" leaps and lurches as illogically as the typical day it is drawn from. "Mortality panics" are routine: "I'm afraid of dying young. I'm afraid of not seeing my children turn 30. I'm afraid of the air becoming unbreathable, the sun becoming unbathable. I'm afraid of drunk drivers . . . " Grody laments in unison with an invisible chorus of neurotic mothers.

On top of this, she applies a thick layer of Jewish tsouris, or woes, that seem to be a fact of life, no matter how well things are going. "Is that some kind of ethnic fear? . . . Don't let the god see how happy you are or he will take it all away?" Grody asks, when she experiences a second of bliss on a busy street corner and instantly disowns it.

One moment she is a singing sock, to the amusement of Gideon. The next, Grody laments the disappearance of sexy self into a frumpy, maternal frame. Throughout the piece, she makes a game attempt at writing her story. In the show, of course, she is never successful. But "A Mom's Life" is proof that Grody overcame the mental disarray and "fractured creativity" she kvetches about in the show to capture the daily pathos of motherhood.

Over two years, Grody completed "A Mom's Life" in an office provided by her friend, impresario Joseph Papp, in New York's Public Theater. With the guidance of Papp, and director Timothy Near, she whittled it down from three hours to an hour and a half. The show premiered as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public. For the performance, Grody wore a salmon-colored T-shirt, the same worn by her husband in his one-man show, "Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual," which ran last year at the Public and on Broadway.

Grody bristles at the notion that her relatively famous family does not have its fair share of uncertainty and money worries. As for their comfortable lifestyle, "Certainly all of that is privilege," Grody says, adding quickly, "My kids don't have their dad [currently in London where he is appearing in a musical based on Ionesco's " Rhinoceros"] for the next month."

However, Grody's maternal angst seems to have stirred up a little retrospective embarrassment. As of this interview, she was considering ways to excise from the show her monologue on the painful process of applying to private schools.

In the show, Grody also attempts briefly to see motherhood from another's perspective. As she grapples with guilt for applying pressure to her son's arm, she draws a parallel between her own emotional stability and that of a welfare mother: "Any mom in some one-room hotel with no kitchen and no options who doesn't hurt her kids is a living saint and that's no joke."

Patinkin is invisible in "A Mom's Life." But Grody speaks proudly of his support as a husband and father. The couple strives to keep life on a normal keel for their children. They take turns on the road, calling on their trusty baby sitter only when an unavoidable conflict arises.

Grody wants to continue performing "A Mom's Life," which will also be published in narrative form by Avon next spring. She is also working on "Urban Anxiety," a television pilot set in New York, and is collaborating with broadcast journalist Linda Ellerbee on a new morning television program.

The less said the better, Grody says of "The Lemon Sisters," the recently released film in which she stars with friends Diane Keaton and Carol Kane. She is disappointed with the finished product, which has received poor reviews, and has not gone out of her way to promote it.

Grody's phone conversation is interrupted by another call. It is Isaac. He and his friend want to go to Party Cake, the bakery down the street, by themselves, to buy cookies and eat them, and come home. "Two 8-year-old boy children alone in Manhattan. My heart is in my mouth. I just gave permission to do that," Grody says.

A mom's life is not her own.

As part of its Command Performance series, the University of Maryland at Baltimore presents "A Mom's Life" 3 p.m. tomorrow at Westminster Hall, 515 W. Fayette St. Tickets may be reserved by calling 328-8035. Tickets will also be available at the door, which opens 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for the general public; $8 for students and senior citizens.

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