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The Argonaut

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Friday, July 24 at 9:20 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 5 p.m.

They say: Pamela Meek shows how to survive a dysfunctional family and thrive as she fights hidden terrors: will she become schizophrenic like her Mom? Marry and have a child? Can she protect her kid from becoming schizophrenic? Could she forgive her mother?

Molly’s take: Occasionally you meet someone in a bar or on an airplane or at a party, you strike up a conversation, and before you know it, they’ve told you so much about their life that you could write and direct a Lifetime Original Movie about them. Of course, some people have had lives filled with enough drama and scandal for a salacious made-for-TV movie, and others just think they have.

Pamela Meek’s life story, as told in an autobiographical one-woman show, probably fits into the first category, but it can be hard to know that from the way she tells it. Meek’s profession is psychology, not performing, and perhaps for that reason, she lacks the ability to convey the drama in her anecdotes, or “snapshot memories,” as she calls them.  She doesn’t always seem to know which details about her journey, from being a child suffering abuse at the hands of her mentally ill mother, to being a psychologist with a PhD trying to raise a daughter of her own, are the most interesting, and which ones can be skipped over.

Meek begins the performance by apologetically declaring that her story is going to make us all “depressed.” But her tale wasn’t all that depressing, since it’s apparent that the storyteller has grown up to be a happy, healthy, successful woman in spite of her upbringing, and even the darkest events of her life are recounted so matter-of-factly that it was difficult to feel any emotion as an audience member. I wanted Meek to describe in more depth how she felt as a child hiding in the closet from the (non-existent) kidnappers her paranoid mother was convinced were after her children, or the anger she felt toward her father for leaving her in the care of an abusive woman, or what happened when she and her brother were finally able, as adults, to talk to each other about their harrowing childhood.  But I could have done without a long description of the time Meek’s mother took her and her brother to visit the nightclub where their father worked; I found myself waiting for it to conclude with the mother having some kind of episode and making a scene, but it didn’t.

A little more than halfway through Sunday night’s performance, there was a sudden bang and the power cut out. The stage manager sprang into action, asking if everyone was ok and pulling aside the blackout curtains on the Argonaut’s windows. They let in enough light for Meek to go on, and she no longer required a microphone to be heard in the absence of the air conditioners’ humming. It would be impressive for a much more experienced performer to continue unfazed after such an interruption, and Meek deserves a pat on the back for her “show must go on” attitude.

As it turns out, there is a very specific answer to the question posed in the show’s title: an answer that would warm the heart of many a Fringegoer, but one that also would have been much more satisfying with a stronger buildup.  If only Meek would spend more time explaining how her mother’s behavior affected her as a child, it would be that much more cathartic to hear her tell how she overcame it in order to be the kind of mother her own daughter needs.

See it if: You love to chat with strangers about where their lives have taken them.

Skip it if: You couldn’t care less about some lady’s mommy issues.

Handout photo courtesy of Pamela Meek