Mommy dearest 

Oscar Wilde wrote, "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy." While far from tragic, Jewish Theatre of the South's From Door to Door sounds bittersweet as it traces how one woman gradually assumes her mother's traits and values over 60 years.

Over the play's six decades, actress Marianne Fraulo credibly takes her character, Mary, from vivacious childhood to rueful old age. As a girl in Chicago during the Great Depression, Mary chafes under the tough love of her Russian immigrant mother, Bessie (Judy Leavell). Bessie frequently harks back to her old life "on the other side" and maintains a view of women roughly comparable to the Taliban's. She scolds Mary for her aspirations to become an artist and attend college, instead urging her to marry as soon as possible.

As the play leaps across years, Mary raises her daughter, Deborah (Pamela Gold), to pursue art and take pride in her education and career. But when Deborah wants to marry a non-Jew, the depth of Mary's opposition takes them both by surprise: Mary's Jewish roots run deeper than she ever expected. As Mary gets older, she picks up Bessie's conversational tics, and her all-American voice even takes on a faint Yiddish accent. From Door to Door suggests that we take on our parents' attributes subliminally, without our conscious intent. It's not exactly a logical idea, but it feels true nevertheless.

Playwright James Sherman writes scenes with sensitivity to mother-daughter dynamics, but director Susan Reid sets them at too fast a pace, as if intent on scoring superficial points rather than have the characters breathe comfortably. Bessie's dislike of Fiddler on the Roof builds to a self-consciously showy speech that reveals a Dark Secret and feels too contrived.

From Door to Door's sentimental moments occasionally feel simply like lists of things to be nostalgic about, but the three actresses' chemistry eventually warms up the audience. From Door to Door illustrates one of the big risks of having children: It'll turn you into a parent.

From Door to Door plays through Nov. 14 at Jewish Theatre of the South, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. Wed.-Thurs. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. $18-$26. 770-395-2654. www.atlantajcc.org.

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