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Parts are better than the whole

American Stage has assembled a dazzling five-woman cast for its season-opening show, which is given a stylish presentation by the theater's artistic director, Victoria Holloway. Mama Drama, written by five women, is about wanting to have babies and not wanting to have babies, about having too many babies and not being able to have even one baby, about being a mother and being a daughter.

The play is a series of sketches involving five 30- or 40-something friends in New York: Leah (Elizabeth Dimon), hugely padded and sunnily maternal in the role of a woman on the verge of birth; Anna (Ruth Reid), a married mother of two who is haunted by the memory of the child she gave up for adoption as a teenager; Liz (Sara Morsey), a photographer with no interest in having a child; Megan (Lisa Powers), a single mother of three small children who has an abortion; Danny (Nancy Barnett), a downtown Madonna type who is infertile.

The actors relate among themselves exceedingly well. In one of the best scenes, Morsey's Liz _ a heartbreaking catch in her voice _ speaks tenderly and lovingly to her befuddled elderly mother (superbly portrayed by Reid), who has Alzheimer's and is in a wheelchair.

Barnett delivers a flavorful comedic monologue on her own birth 35 years ago ("before there was Lamaze"), recollecting the event as described by her mother. Dimon holds up her side of a hilarious dialogue with her meddling mother via portable phone. Powers throws herself into the inevitable hair-raising labor scene.

There are some fitting songs by the Roches, including I Love My Mom and Broken Places.

Mama Drama is well-crafted and diverting, but there isn't much depth to it. All the characters are white. With the exception of Powers' Megan, each of the main characters is cut from the career woman's bolt of cloth.

Bringing together such an appealing cast for such a lightweight play is like reuniting Nicole Haislett and the Olympic swim team to blow soap bubbles. Of course they perform beautifully, but you wish all that talent had something more challenging to do.

THEATER REVIEW

Mama Drama

The play by Ann Sachs, Rita Nachtmann, Christine Farrell, Donna Daley and Leslie Ayvazian is at American Stage through Oct. 25. Tickets are $10-$20; call 822-8814

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