Mothers of Invention

Onetime Austinite Laura Poe delivers a tasty satire about genetically engineered food

Arts Review

Mothers of Invention

The Hideout Theatre, through Sept. 13

Running time: 1 hr, 10 min

Before there was a Long Center or a Frost Bank Tower, even before First Street was named for Cesar Chavez, Laura Poe studied theatre at the University of Texas and acted locally.

Eventually, she moved on to New York City and making movies with Tommy Lee Jones (The Good Old Boys) and Matt Damon and Billy Bob Thornton (All the Pretty Horses). But for a short time, she has returned to her old hometown to present her one-woman show, Mothers of Invention.

You've heard the phrase "ripped from the headlines"? Well, Mothers of Invention isn't exactly ripped from the headlines, but that's only because, for whatever reason, genetically engineered foods haven't made headlines. Unless you adhere to a strict low-on-the-food-chain diet, you consume these man-made delectations every day. And whether the possibility that genetically engineered foods can make you happier or smarter or give you hallucinations actually exists or not, it certainly makes a great jumping-off point for a story.

Which is exactly how Poe uses it for her tale about KaChings, chips manufactured from genetically engineered Sunshine Happy potatoes, and the effect they have on a particular junk-food junkie. Poe not only wrote the show; she portrays all six characters in it, playing Midwesterners and Southerners, channeling Annette Bening in American Beauty, ice queen Martha Stewart, a Larry King look-alike, and, most surprisingly, a big-breasted blond beauty in whom you cannot detect the slightest hint of Laura Poe.

While it's tempting to say she morphs effortlessly from character to character, it would be a misrepresentation. Poe only plays three of the characters live; she portrays the other three on videos interspersed between the live scenes. Poe credits no fewer than four editors in her program (an entertainment all its own), and the videos include delightful animated commercials by Molly Light. Poe uses the videos both to (hilariously) advance the story and to cover the costume changes that assist in her expert portrayals, all of which she plays at breakneck speed. Which makes sense because the show is satire of the lowest order. And I mean that in only the most complimentary way.

I feel compelled to admit that I had a problem with Poe's script. More often than not in the live scenes, Poe speaks and responds to unseen, unheard characters – an "invisible character" kind of acting I've always found inherently awkward. I mean, there's nobody there, for crying out loud! But while it takes some getting used to, Poe always manages to make you believe there actually is someone there, especially when she's talking on the phone. So go to experience breakneck satire with the highest social conscience. Go to experience as fine a piece of versatile acting as you'll see anywhere in Austin – or the rest of the country, for that matter. Go to learn the mysteries of Sheeze (the origin of which I would never divulge). But mostly, go to welcome back this daughter of Austin theatre, who is quite the mother of invention all by herself.

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Mothers of Invention, Laura Poe

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