NEW YORK (AP) — Haul out the evil mother-in-law jokes; Mrs. Phelps is a real doozy.
A mother's selfishness can take many forms, but dramatist Sidney Howard (screenwriter for "Gone With the Wind") created a real monster in his 1926 domestic drama, "The Silver Cord." His manipulative Mrs. Phelps, a long-widowed, middle-aged mother of two adult sons, gives new meaning to the term smother.
The title of "The Silver Cord" refers to the umbilical cord (translation: money) that the narcissistic widow uses to cripple her sons' independence and bind them to her side.
Peccadillo Theater Company has mounted a condensed, well-done revival with a twist: The mother is played by Dale Carman, in drag. This conceit has worked well in recent plays when the character is played comically, but director Dan Wackerman has Carman play the role seriously. Carman is very good at enacting a woman, but by playing it straight — so to speak — he slightly distracts from the genuine and lively drama unfolding.
Effeminate and genteel, eyes darting about with barely-concealed malice, Carman makes a delicate grimace of delight whenever Mother scores a devious point in her machinations to trick her sons into staying near her. If that means getting rid of annoying fiancées and even wives, by whatever means necessary, this harridan is briskly ready to do whatever it takes.
Insidious, poisonous lies are her weapon of choice to divide her sons from whatever female threatens her. Her evidently brainwashed and spoiled sons worship their scheming matriarch and are oblivious to her chicanery. Thomas Matthew Kelley seems worldly as the favorite, David, but he blindly follows his mother's cruel advice when events take a negative turn. Wilson Bridges gives a naive credibility to younger brother Robert.
David's pregnant new wife, Christina, a modern-thinking, professional scientist, is played with intelligence and increasing ferocity by Victoria Mack. Christina catches on to mommie dearest's nefarious game pretty quickly, and she's not afraid to speak out to save her husband and her marriage. However, emotionally fragile Hester (Caroline Kaplan, charmingly melodramatic), who engaged to Robert, is less mentally tough, and doesn't fare so well against her fiancé's contriving mother.
Beautiful costumes and a well-appointed set by Harry Feiner provide a lovely background for the tense drama. In one completely creepy scene, Mother snuggles up to David in his bed and kisses him on the mouth. More than once.
Whether Christina will be able to keep the father of her unborn child or lose him to the lucrative promises of his malicious mother becomes the main battle of the play, and the final act is an exciting, knock-down, drag-out verbal confrontation between the two women.