By Jan Jaben-Eilon
Atlanta playwright Bill Balzer had what could easily be labeled a torturous relationship with his mother. Not unlike many of us. The difference is that he decided to write a play about his mother, called Mary B in the production at The Balzer Theater at Herren’s in downtown Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit.
The audience quickly learns the source of the play’s title, “Two Drink Minimum.” “The first drink was for the courage to make the call. The second provided the courage not to hang up,” Bill says, describing the regular Sunday phone call he “religiously” made to his mother well into his adulthood. According to Bill, he always took care of his mother; according to her, he, of course, didn’t. But Mary B was one of those people who could never be satisfied no matter what her son did, or didn’t do. As we learn from Bill early in the play, his mother had a Ph.D. in Polish Catholic guilt. She must have received straight As.
Bill describes how there were four parts to her life, the Depression, World War II, before he married his wife, Peg, and after he married his wife, Peg. The tangled relationship between the only child and his mother is probably familiar to many in the audience, and fortunately the strain is relieved with scattered humor.
Bill is played by William S. Murphey, below, who has performed at the Theatrical Outfit in several plays including “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “The Chase,” “A Lesson Before Dying” and “The God Committee.”
Mary B is strikingly played by Susan Shalhoub Larkin who recently won the Barbara Award for Best Actress in a Play in Aurora Theater’s “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Larkin has strong Atlanta roots, having co-founded The Center for Puppetry Arts, Theatre Atlanta and the Georgia Ensemble.
Matthew Myers, who plays various men, is making his Theatrical Outfit debut in “Two Drink Minimum,” while Peg, played by Wendy Melkonian previously performed at the theater in “Godspel,” “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” and “The Foreigner. Pictured below are Murphey, Melkonian and Larkin.
Directed by Scott Warren, the play is cleverly staged by adding what appear to be original Super 8 snippets from Balzer’s childhood. This underlines the fact that this is a true story. In addition, Warren notes that “shadow and light provide a great way to define those memories that are just on the edge of our perception.” Silhouettes help the audience visualize these faint pictures.
Beyond the troubled mother-son relationship, “Two Drink Minimum” also portrays the difficulties encountered by the current “sandwich generation” responsible not only for growing children, but also for aging parents afflicted by both physical and mental challenges. “Two Drink Minimum” plays through Nov. 18.
Photos by Josh Lamkin
Jan Jaben-Eilon, a journalist, is a guest blogger for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. She was a founding staff writer of the “Atlanta Business Chronicle.” Since then, she has been the international editor of “Advertising Age” magazine and has written for such publications as “The New York Times,” “International Herald Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Report”, “Washington Journalism Review,” and “Consumer Reports.” Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.