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Grindr mom review

Mindy leaf, around town

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Secrets of a Mormon Mom

By Mindy Leaf

Jeni Hacker is an amazing actress. I can see why she's won two Carbonells and a Silver Palm award. She'll likely go on to win many more, especially for her latest, one-woman show GRINDR MOM, now playing at Wilton Theater Factory's Foundry annex. Solo performances (in "theater-speak") are obviously not easy, but Hacker makes it look like a piece a cake. The issues she addresses are difficult, at times confusing or confounding, but her delivery is always razor sharp.

Written and presented by Ronnie Larsen (now celebrating his 23rd production in South Florida) and directed by none other than local pro Stuart Meltzer (Zoetic Stage's artistic director/founding member, who's also garnered loads of awards), the play sheds light on the inner life of a conservative, middle-aged wife and mother who confesses her deepest fears and mild rebellions to a group of close friends (that would be us, the audience). Acting in typical neighborly fashion, at one point she even passes out Tupperware boxes of homemade cookies for us to nibble on during the show. Frankly adding: "If there's not enough for everyone, well that's God's plan for you."

Outwardly, Hacker admits to being a God-fearing, Mormon Republican who believes in same-sex marriage and that all atheists go to hell. (She nonetheless harbors hope for her atheist son: If she can only turn him agnostic, he'll be relegated to the not-so-bad Days Inn of a hereafter, while true believers like his parents check into the Ramada.) But more than anything, she's a mother -- wracked by human foibles, engaged in survival strategies, and possessed of a deep abiding love for her only son. Politically, I may be her opposite, but as a devoted mother, I can totally relate. Hacker's character is engaging and real and I can't help but like her. And celebrate her feisty curiosity, her small rebellions (in a world where slurping an extra Pepsi constitutes a bold act of defiance), and obsessive need to understand her son's lifestyle choices.

I, too, all too often find myself stalking my daughter's Facebook page, along with those of her friends and, like the play's mom, looking up social-media memes and contractions in the free online dictionary. I may not like everything I discover, but the play's mom has it a lot harder because I, at least, need not reconcile my disappointments with the actions of a supposedly benevolent higher power.

Hacker refers to her son as Joseph and eventually lets us know her husband's name is Tom. But we are never told HER name -- perhaps indicative of how she sees herself primarily in the subservient role of wife and mother. Toward the end of the play, upon trying to help a struggling gay adolescent, she's given the nickname "Grindr Mom." But for now, I'll just call her Mom. Her own son, Joseph, first comes out to her at age 24 and begs her not to tell his dad. "I'm good at keeping secrets," she responds. It seems she'd known her son was gay since he was six and stated at the breakfast table: "I like Cheerios very much; sounding just like a British food critic."

Mom admits, to us, that while mouthing the correct words of acceptance she REALLY didn't want a gay son but perhaps had forgotten to add that item to her prayers. "I prayed every night for God to send me a normal healthy baby, one without special needs and please not a Democrat."

When her son adds he has a boyfriend, Mom asks how they met. "Online," he says. Which leads to a slew of funny follow-ups like:

"On line in the grocery checkout? The movies?"

"No, the internet. Like Candy Crush or Facebook -- but for gay people."

"Oh, like on Christian Singles?"

"No Grindr."

"Are you saying like a meat grinder?" Literally."  

Well, you get the drift.

When Joseph tells his mom it's a phone dating app, she decides to check it out for herself by creating her own Grindr account.

At first, Mom's shocked at how the app reveals "just a sea of headless, shirtless torsos ... and every one is just interested in sex." And at how many gay seekers are out there, apparently everywhere -- at the supermarket, in church, even in the high school where she volunteers once a week. Her Grindr name is "Pepsi Guzzler," and, after much prompting, she snaps a photo of her table lamp as her pic. The flirtatious messages continue. Mom just can't help herself. She checks in often, she flirts. She's determined to figure out if the sweet father with kids behind her in the grocery line is secretly cheating on his wife. Soon it seems as if everyone around her is gay. "Everywhere I went, within 500 feet, there were 10 homosexuals. And I thought Joseph was special ... It's all making me sad, but I can't stop looking. Maybe life was better before I knew everyone on the planet was a homosexual."

Mom is a lot smarter than many give her credit for. She soon realizes the fatal flaw in frequent dating app use, reflecting: "Maybe Grindr wants you to feel lonely." So you continue using the app for more bodies. She decides to quit, but not before just one more look. When she sees a naked torso she recognizes all too well.... If you've ever used dating apps, you'll love this play. If you've had a rocky marriage and kept secrets from your husband, you'll relate. If you're a mom blessed with a child who's different from the one you expected to raise (and don't ALL our children surprise us!), you'll sympathize. Finally, if you appreciate the electric atmosphere and personal engagement that can only come from experiencing live theater in an intimate venue, you'll love "Grindr Mom." In other words, this show has something for everyone. It's also a world premiere that is destined to develop far-reaching legs. But you can boast you saw it first in your hometown.

Grindr Mom is playing through October 13 at the Wilton Theater Factory @The Foundry,

2304 N. Dixie Highway,

Wilton Manors 33305.

Tickets at RonnieLarsen.com.

Or call 954-826-8790.