Mother Hicks is an American drama set in southern Illinois during the Great Depression. Not be confused with the gangster-ridden Chicago of the same era, southern Illinois is very nearly the South. It was (is) more rural, poorer and perhaps more vulnerable, which allows a point of entry for Suzan Zeder’s decidedly feminist and partisan, but also winning, script.When the narrow-minded shopkeeper Clovis P. Eudy (Mark Rowe) and housewife Izzy Sue Ricks (Robin Albee-Kesich) wonder whether Mother Hicks is a witch, they almost sound like townsfolk out of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. They worry about hexing and children who die young—except we’re talking about the 1930s, not 200 years before.
Even better are the conversations between the 13-year-old “Girl” (a wild-child orphan played well by 13-year-old Alexyss Valdez) and the darker, no-less-formally educated healer Mother Hicks (Lynne Perry, in a basically heroic, feminist role). Look also for good work from Crom Saunders as the silent Tuc.
Actor Jeff Webster—formerly an usher at the B Street Theatre—also fares well as small-town undertaker Hosia Ward alongside stage spouse Alma Ward (Rita Brandes), who cares about the girl they’ve tried to adopt.
Director Michele Koehler works up a fair amount of dramatic tension and taps into some lovely little character sidelights. Still, there were some blown lines and awkward scene transitions on opening night.
Mother Hicks offers lots of attractive elements in a small-budget production. Though less glossy than several other shows around town, this one’s got the brains.