THE BASICS: GRINDR MOM, a play by Ronnie Larsen, directed by Todd Fuller, starring Caitlin Coleman, presented by Plum Stab Productions, opened on Wednesday, May 25, and runs Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30, with two 2 pm matinees next Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5 (coinciding with Pride) at 2:00. Alleyway Theatre Cabaret, One Curtain Up Alley (between Pearl and Main along the back wall of Shea’s) Buffalo NY 14202 alleyway.com 716.852.2600 or visit ci.ovationtix.com.
Runtime: 80 minutes without intermission (Alleyway bar open before and after the performances)
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: A devout Mormon woman tells us that after her son came out to her (she always knew) and told her that he has a boyfriend, she asked all the usual mom questions including “where’d ya meet?” to which the answer was “Grindr.” He tells her that it’s a phone app, you know, like Candy Crush which she loves to play, and it’s social, you know, kind of like Facebook. Intrigued, she secretly downloads Grindr, the gay dating/hookup app, creates her profile as “PepsiGuzzler” and discovers many surprises along the way. Some are kind of funny, some are poignant and some are, well… not. No spoilers here.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: As I wrote back in my 2017 review of Donna Hoke’s play SONS AND LOVERS about a clueless mom with a gay son:
“I continue to be impressed by Caitlin Baeumler Coleman (Ellen), one of the finest actors we have in town. She so completely inhabits her roles that I always double-check: is this the same actor who was ‘Carrie’ the cancer patient in last season’s outstanding BUA production of STEVE? Is this the same woman who was Robert Shallow in SIDP’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR? Not to mention other fine recent performances over at New Phoenix Theatre in HARVEY and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I swear it was five different people. How does she do that?
“Well, some credit goes to the director, Todd Fuller, who helped create a very realistic, very consistent character on the eve of some big changes. Others might have taken this role too far. Here, Coleman and Fuller have it just right.”
That play, SONS AND LOVERS, which was also at the Alleyway Cabaret (newly appointed by the way, with very comfortable chairs and attractive bistro tables) was about a mom of a gay son, so this is familiar territory for the Coleman/Fuller team. And Fuller has had a string of successes directing for Buffalo United Artists in, for example, THE BOYS UPSTAIRS (read my review here), as well as AFTERGLOW (read my review here) and, for The New Phoenix Theatre, THE SEAT NEXT TO THE KING (read my review here).
The run of GRINDR MOM is coordinated to end on June 5, the date of the Pride Parade down Elmwood (free, starting at 11 am) and the Pride Festival at Canalside (ticketed event, starting at 2 pm). For more information on both the parade and festival, visit The Pride Center of WNY here.
So what actually happens in the play? I can’t tell you without spoiling the surprises, but in general, The Wife (as she is called in the script), outwardly embraced her 24 year-old-son after he came out to her, but they decided to keep this from dad, who has anger management issues. (She tells us on several occasions that she keeps secrets well, including her addiction to Diet Pepsi.)
Outwardly embraced? She does share with us a secret that she keeps from her son, which is that after two miscarriages, when she prayed that she only wanted a healthy baby, she now tells us that “I guess I should have been more specific: ‘Dear Heavenly Father, please send me a Republican-leaning heterosexual baby with no birth defects and no lisp.’ And I’m sorry, I know that sounds awful, and yes, I’m strong, I could probably handle a baby with special needs — but please not a Democrat.”
The play is peppered with laugh lines just like that. There’s a description of heaven, which she sees as having an upper level, kind of like a Ramada, and a lower level, more like a Day’s Inn or Motel 6.
There is also an amusing routine where she asks Apple’s Digital Assistant Siri “What is Grindr?” And Siri tells her that in hockey, a “grinder” is a player good at checking but not known for scoring. That’s loaded with puns, because we find later that The Wife is good at checking her Grindr account, but terrible at “scoring.” After several false starts, she turns to the Amazon Digital Assistant, Alexa, and after a bit, Siri and Alexa get into an argument. Pretty funny. Siri finally tells her that “Grindr is a location-based social networking and online dating application for gay, bi, trans, and queer people, and men who have sex with men.” Oh. And, along the way, with the help of Google, she learns what PnP means, about Tops and Bottoms, and what Verse means.
So, when she was using her Grindr account to get more acquainted with her beloved son’s lifestyle, I thought that this play was very funny and at times touching and bittersweet. But when she becomes obsessed with checking her Grindr account constantly, it wasn’t so funny.
And some of the material seems a little dated, as when the mom refers to “THE Grindr” which I take to be a reference to George W. Bush referring to “THE Google;” there’s a bit about Prop 8, the 2008 California ballot proposition to ban same-sex marriage; and the mention of the 2009 app “Words With Friends;” and more contemporary, but still dated, a reference to Donald Trump’s Tweets.
So how to assign Buffalos? The production is great. Coleman and Fuller have, as expected, done a good job, and if you’ve read this far, you should go. It’s the play itself that’s problematic. I found it just took on too much; it wandered, and at times was just too mean for a comedy. The opening night audience was small, but I imagine that when the theater has more people in it, all attuned to gay issues, all responding to the insider jokes and flush with recognition, they will help provide a really fun-filled experience. Hopefully, this review will help to generate awareness and create that bigger audience. And, Todd Warfield, if you don’t stock Diet Pepsi at the bar, you really should. (Caitlin makes drinking it through a straw seem somewhere between a religious and a PnP experience.)
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!