Theater Review - Megan Gogerty jumps Feet First into motherhood in irrepressible monologue play

One-woman show offers female answer to Louis C.K.'s rants on parenting

In her new one-woman show, playwright/performer Megan Gogerty recounts a story about her great-grandmother. "She was a cook on a steamboat on the Mississippi River," Gogerty says, as if dusting off an oft-told tale at a family gathering. "At 16, she had her baby and supported them both by scrubbing pots and pans. When there was a fire on the boat, she grabbed the baby and jumped feet-first into the river. She couldn't swim, so she dog-paddled to shore with the baby's diaper in her teeth."

The story provides the title of Gogerty's latest monologue, Feet First in the Water With a Baby in my Teeth, produced by Synchronicity Theatre. Gogerty's other female relatives and role models, like her great-grandmother, cast a long shadow over the playwright as a relatively privileged new mom in the early 21st century. Feet First in the Water breaks little new ground as a piece of social commentary, but Gogerty proves to be an irrepressibly funny and candid performer.

Gogerty opens the show with a contemporary version of a frontier ordeal as she describes flying from Iowa City to New York with her infant son, whom she nicknames "Turk," because he weighs as much as a turkey. Like a stand-up comedian, Gogerty relates her efforts to soothe the crying baby, change a diaper in a tiny airplane bathroom, and transport baby and luggage from the airport to a five-story New York walk-up.

Gogerty glances at her courtship with her future husband, and how they lost their collegiate faux-sophistication upon discovering the power of Dolly Parton's 1970s hits on a road trip. Gogerty salsa dances when she exults in the yuppie comforts she enjoys compared to her struggling relatives who came before, and jitterbugs when she imagines how much fun they'll have when the baby is born. At times she slaps an inane, chipmunk-like smile and glassy-eyed expression, in happy denial of what's to come.

In Act One, Gogerty presents herself as a borderline grating Pollyanna, but she has a hidden agenda. She wears a brightly colored dress, knee-high boots, matching belt, and carefully coiffed hairstyle. Act Two finds her in sweat pants, a T-shirt with sleeves rolled up, and lace-up sneakers, her hair haphazardly pinned up. Despite her confidence and organizational abilities, motherhood has hit her like a ton of diaper bags.

Gogerty feels so assailed by Turk's demands, so spooked by cultural trends, and so betrayed by her postpartum body that she resolves, "To avoid confusing things — like people! Or new experiences!" and she practically becomes a shut-in. At times, she confesses to rage at her son and the possible loss of her writing career.

Directed by Alexis Chamow in a joint world premiere with Iowa's Riverside Theatre, Synchronicity Theatre's staging features some witty touches, such as the stepladder that serves both as a chair and an occasional stand-in for the uncooperative toddler. In general, when Gogerty vents over the challenges of being a mom, she offers a female equivalent to comedian Louis C.K.'s hilarious routines on the infinite frustrations of children. Gogerty has an added level of shame of failing to live up to the standard set by her great-grandmother and other intrepid women, but she eventually figures out how to raise a child, continue to write, and keep her head above water.

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