David's Mother, Apple Tree Theatre. Bob Randall's issue-driven drama makes its Chicago premiere at Apple Tree with an Emmy under its belt, for a 1994 TV adaptation: David's Mother is a natural for the small screen, with its glib dialogue, emotionally charged subject, and tendency to address profound crises in an easily digestible way. But staging this story--about a hardworking single mother's struggle to maintain her sanity while caring for her autistic son--is another matter entirely.
Every element of the plot is plausible, from the rifts caused by David's overwhelming needs to his mother's immense distrust of meddling social-service agencies. But Randall's predictable script, with its carefully placed monologues, elucidating flashbacks, and revelatory conversations, gives everything a veneer of phoniness. Like Steven Sachs in Sweet Nothing in My Ear, which played at Victory Gardens, Randall seems to think that outlining a controversial topic is sufficient to produce drama. But lacking imagination, wit, and originality, Randall's play, like Sachs's, seems flat and generic.
Kate Buddeke, a fine actress, is credible as the brutally honest and acerbic yet vulnerable title character, and she works well with promising newcomer Bradley Smith as David; the silent moments between mother and son are the play's most effective. But Buddeke, Smith, and Gary Griffin's serviceable supporting cast combined can't make this any more than an intermittently affecting Sunday-night movie, competent but utterly disposable. --Adam Langer