The love-hate relationship between a mother and daughter is the subject of Ellen Snortland's fantastic one-woman show "Now That She's Gone," at the Missing Piece Theater in Burbank.
Although Snortland is rough on her mom, it's obvious there's more love than hate, and Snortland is at her best when she highlights some of the funnier moments of her awkward youth. But above all, her play is a heartwarming memoir of Snortland's hectic journey from a small-town Norwegian-American girl who "talked too much," to a successful author, playwright and actress.
The setting is a cluttered assisted living apartment as Ellen packs up the rest of her mother's belongings, one of which is an authentic Norwegian dress her mother sewed by hand.
"You know how a dress is handmade," Ellen deadpans in her mother's thick Norwegian brogue. "Look for the blood from the needlepoint."
As much criticism as Ellen gave her mother for being wound too tightly, she did have a dry wit that elicited some huge laughs. Another favorite was her mother's thoughts on the story of Adam and Eve, both of whom were Norwegian, at least in her mind. As Ellen tells it, her mother often said, "Only a Norwegian man could stand next to a stark naked woman and want the apple!"
The Missing Piece Theater is by no means big (it holds fewer than a couple dozen people), but Snortland capitalized on its intimacy by including the audience in some of her self-deprecating humor.
"This is the phonetic spelling of my last name," she said before asking everyone to "snort like a pig."
Her unusual surname probably caused Ellen plenty of ridicule back in her school days, but it was refreshing to see her make light of it. She's proud of her Norwegian heritage, after all, and is not afraid to poke fun at it.
For instance, her mother never swore but did pepper her language with oofta, a Norwegian expression used to convey exhaustion or surprise, similar to oy vey in Yiddish. Snortland could never make her mother laugh or smile, but she did manage to make her say oofta a few times. Ellen tells a story of how she shaved her eyebrows out of grief on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. On this particular occasion, however, all her mother said was, "they'll grow back."
But in 1972 her mother said nothing when more than 200 people died from a flood in her parents' hometown in South Dakota.
Seven people in her neighborhood survived, and three of them were Ellen and her parents. Ellen's mother never talked about the flood and this troubled her daughter. As Ellen tells it, she wanted her mother to admit to herself that something bad had happened in order to heal.
Eventually, Ellen just learned to accept her mother for who she was, eccentricities and all.
By the time her mother was dying, Ellen had come to realize that as cold and indifferent as her mother might have been on the outside, inside she was deeply proud of her daughter and her accomplishments. That being said, "Now That She's Gone" is a fitting tribute.
Infobox What: "Now That She's Gone" written and performed by Ellen SnortlandWhen: 8 p.m. today and Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, with a possible extension May 28 and 29 Where: The Missing Piece Theater, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., BurbankTickets: $20Contact: Tickets can be bought online at http://tinyurl.com/ydhndus, or at the door, if seats are still available.