- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

My late mother was given to extremes. A headache was always a brain tumor. If you were five minutes late, she imagined you dead on the highway, the state police scraping up your pancaked remains with a spatula. She was a piker, however, compared to Nana (Catherine Flye), the mother of Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay and the earthy, effervescent subject of his autobiographical work, “For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again.”

Mr. Tremblay’s play is an unabashedly loving tribute to his late mother, to whom he credits his thirst for the dramatic and his devotion to reading and the arts.

Yet his working-class mum did not bestow these by dragging young Michel to museums, concerts, ballets and plays. For all we can see, Nana rarely left the house.

She was a history-of-drama course in an apron.

Nana was a storyteller, a woman who ranked up there with Chaucer and Moliere in her skill at exaggeration and daggered humor. Saturday night roast beef suppers with Aunt Gertrude, cousin Lucille’s dance recital and episodes with the clothes wringer all take on a Rabelaisian heartiness at the hand of Nana.

“For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again” takes us through the life of the Narrator (Bruce M. Holmes) with his mother, starting at age 10, when she hilariously reams him out for chucking chunks of ice at passing cars (her lurid account of what really happens in reform school alone is worth the price of admission), through the confused teenage years (when mother’s and son’s tastes in novels diverge) and college days, when he’s trying to carve out a career in the theater.

It’s in this latter time that Nana starts to succumb to what we assume is cancer, and for a few ephemeral moments, the comic mask slips, and her son gains 11th-hour insights into what his mother is truly thinking and feeling. Turns out, she is more than an entertaining raconteur — Nana has the soul of an artist.

Recognizing this, her playwright son gives her a dramatic exit worthy of Sarah Bernhardt.

Miss Flye is an ideal fit for the part of Nana. With her loopy, expressive body language and hectic delivery, Miss Flye can sell a story like nobody’s business. While telling her stories, she scurries across the floor in a dandy little hopping step, as if her feet are desperate to keep rhythm with her dancing tongue. You get the feeling she could make a trip to the grocery store seem like a five-act Greek tragedy, only funnier.

Mr. Holmes, who bears a physical resemblance to the playwright in his youth, starts off fumbling but gains confidence and presence as the play goes on.

Director John Vreeke smartly keeps the staging simple: an inlaid wood floor, a chair and a colonnade of screens. That’s because the words take center stage in this play — torrents of words that sit on your ears like fat curls, sentences and descriptions so vivid they weight and shape the air.

“For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again” is about the power of imagination, and how a mother’s frantic mind can conjure worlds far more potent and lingering than anything her loving son could ever hope to experience beyond the kitchen table.

***

WHAT: “For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again” by Michel Tremblay

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 27.

TICKETS: $35 to $40

PHONE: 703/548-9044

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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