Family matters in Ginger Lazarus's amusing and preposterous "Matter Familias." Family matters a lot. It's what keeps you together -- and drives you crazy. In a splendid production of this new comedy at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Katherine Peterson, a therapist in her early 30s, has decided to adopt. The catch? She's adopting William, a 40-year-old accountant. "He needs a mother like me -- and I need a son like him," she explains to her dumbfounded parents.
Complications continue. William's overeager cubicle mate, Claude, turns out to be Katherine's ex-boyfriend. When Katherine's mother discovers this, she's driven to get these two back together. Her beloved daughter needs her own baby. Meanwhile, Katherine's adopted sister, Lisa, is experiencing her own episode of baby-lust and may possibly be experiencing an immaculate conception with her girlfriend (also named Lisa).
Virtually every theme of postmodern baby making (donor sperm, overseas orphanages) is examined and expertly lampooned. Though playwright Lazarus relies too heavily on plot twists involving mysterious adoptions and mistaken paternity and even maternity -- "Matter Familias" is well-begotten hilarity, with overlapping scenes and startling segues.
In the lead, Helen McElwain brings a winning combination of earnestness and impetuousness to Katherine. She's believable as a therapist, tortured daughter, and yearning mama-to-be. Tender with her middle-age son William (sweetly played by Gus Kelley), her impatience with her own parents is sublime.
Dad (Robert D. Murphy) brings a depth and sensitivity to what could have been a rote role (most of his scenes are spent staring at a perpetual sports game on TV). As Mother, Nancy E. Carroll is lusciously malicious, even when flat on her back, impassive behind dark glasses (Mother gets migraines when she doesn't get her way). Her scheming and manipulation have enormous comic payoffs, as do those of Barlow Adamson's Claude.
Cartoonishly inept at first, Claude transitions into a plaintive suitor, would-be sophisticate, and cringing child. Only Kortney Adams and Karen "Mal" Malme as the two Lisas occasionally go over the top. To be fair, these roles are written with more serious intent. These two have to realistically represent the mixed passions that accompany impending parenthood.
Richard Chambers's unabashedly surreal scenic design is austere: a simple box set covered with white stretchy fabric. Through tears, doll parts are visible, and Anthony Kudner's effective lighting scheme plays up the cheerful brightness without too much glare (it's a set that occasionally glows). Haddon Kime's sound effects include amplified drinking and swallowing, as well as faux-naive pop music snippets. These are surprising and always add to the story. Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes are astutely chosen, and director Wesley Savick has presided over an imaginative and delicious clan-bake of a saga. Never mind the looming "family" holiday -- this is a tale for all four seasons.