ART Station rehashes play of vignettes

Judy Leavell (from left), Karen Howell and Benny Higgins appear in “Mama Makes Up Her Mind” at ART Station. CONTRIBUTED BY MICHAEL HIDALGO
Judy Leavell (from left), Karen Howell and Benny Higgins appear in “Mama Makes Up Her Mind” at ART Station. CONTRIBUTED BY MICHAEL HIDALGO

It’s billed as a new play, but ‘Mama Makes Up Her Mind’ isn’t all original.

As I was skimming through the playbill for "Mama Makes Up Her Mind (and Other Dangers of Southern Living)," I got all the way to my seat in the newly renovated theater at Stone Mountain's ART Station before realizing something. I'd already subjected myself to the production when the company first presented it — that was 15 years ago.

ART Station artistic director David Thomas first adapted and staged “Mama Makes Up Her Mind (and Other Dangers of Southern Living)” in 2005. It’s based on the collected essays of author and NPR commentator Bailey White.

The show includes some 20 vignettes, mostly in the vein of those old “Mama’s Family” skits from “The Carol Burnett Show.” A few of them may have changed in this current version of the show, insofar as the program bills it as a “new play” — but that isn’t to say there’s anything very original about any of them.

Reprising their roles from the first time around are veteran Atlanta actresses Judy Leavell (as Mama) and Karen Howell (as Bailey), both of whom have fared better in other roles throughout their lengthy careers, and neither of whom is exactly stretching here. Joining them this time in several bit parts is actor Benny Higgins.

When Mama craves smoked mullet, she and Bailey visit a juke joint. Their neglectful husband and father abandons them for a TV career in Los Angeles. As a 6-year-old girl, Bailey helps incubate some baby turkeys. Mama gets an obscene phone call. She goes to an instant care facility at the mall. Her favorite movie is “Midnight Cowboy.” At a family wedding, Bailey wears a pair of ill-fitting pantyhose and fends off the advances of a graceless suitor. Mama sees a flying saucer and takes a bubble bath on the porch.

And that’s just the first act. In the second, Bailey’s Uncle Jim Buddy cuts off the tip of his finger. She takes Mama to see “The Silence of the Lambs,” and she and her sister clear out a lot of the clutter around the house. Mama goes camping and decides to write her memoirs. Bailey becomes a volunteer firefighter. Mama prepares roadkill for dinner and teaches a neighboring taxidermist how to cook. “Cooking’s not like tanning hides,” she tells him. “It’s all about developing a nice sense of proportion.”

A sense of proportion isn’t really on the menu in “Mama Makes Up Her Mind.” There’s a repetitive vocal cadence to a lot of Howell’s narration that grows monotonous. And there isn’t much distinction between the many roles played by Higgins, who appears in drag for some of them without bothering to alter or adjust his voice or mannerisms.

A little variation in the skits could have gone a long way in distinguishing them and keeping them from running together. In a couple of scenes — when Mama and Bailey encounter a bald eagle, or when Bailey recounts assisting the victim of an auto accident — Thomas cues a bit of mood music to suggest a poignancy or nuance that the rest of show otherwise sorely lacks.

THEATER REVIEW

“Mama Makes Up Her Mind”

Through Feb. 9. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 10:30 a.m. Wednesday (Feb. 5 only). $15-$34. ART Station Theatre, 5384 Manor Drive, Stone Mountain. 770-469-1105. artstation.org.

Bottom line: Still corny after all these years.