Family ties

I Remember Mama

Rated 3.0

City Theatre’s newest production fits right into the holiday theater season, even though it’s not marketed as a holiday play, nor is it about the holidays. The whole family will enjoy I Remember Mama, a quaint look at a warm immigrant Norwegian household in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

The setup is similar to that of Little Women, in which a writer looks back and narrates the childhood that nurtured stories and influenced her writing career. Scriptwriter John Van Druten adapted writer Kathryn Forbes’ book Mama’s Bank Account, about her poor but proud family, into the play I Remember Mama. The play subsequently was turned into both a movie and the 1950s television series Mama.

Mama (Maria Ryken) is a firm but affectionate mother who sits at the dining-room table every Saturday and decides how the meager family funds will be spent among bills and food for a family of five. Daughter Katrin (Erin Herscowitz) is the observer of the family, writing down the escapades of her household and the various relatives’ ensuing dramas and family secrets. There are no major tragedies, just small mishaps and misunderstandings.

The story is a sweet one, about the spirit and struggle of immigrants embracing a new country. It’s cloying at times, like a Little House on the Prairie episode with an added spoonful of sugar.

However, the cast elevates the material and makes the family one you want to spend time with. Ryken is the right blend of tough and tender, and Herscowitz is a fine, frisky daughter, but it’s the three aunts who steal the show: Cheantell Munn, Laura Kaya and Martha Omiyo Kight.

The period costumes and Victorian set are beautifully crafted, and director Luther Hanson does a good job of keeping a slow story on a fast track while expertly handling the play’s many scene changes.