LOWELL -- The Merrimack Repertory Theatre ends its 2017-2018 season with a high-energy, high-decibel world premiere dedicated to that unsung superhero -- Mom.
"The Villains' Supper Club" follows a day in the life of Galactic Girl, a new mother returning to work from maternity leave. The production features the largest cast of the season, with six actors, some of whom play multiple roles in this fast-paced comedy.
Characters in this play by Lila Rosa Kaplan speak from the pages of a graphic novel in tropes drawn from 19th-century melodrama, 20th-century slapstick, and 21st-century sexual identity and gender politics. The play opens with "dark and rainy night" images and narrative, follows with choreographed pratfalls, and weaves in the challenges of being a single mother with a career.
Galactic Girl actually has two careers. Shades of Superman and Clark Kent, she doubles as Lydia Crash, a seemingly hapless newspaper reporter who nearly loses her job on her first day back from her leave of absence. She also frequents a pay telephone booth, but not for costume changes. Instead, she ducks into the booth to pump breast milk for her baby.
It is while ducking into the booth that she encounters Lee the Leopard, her ex-boyfriend and the unsuspecting father of her baby. Lee is a member of the Villain's Supper Club, which is out to kill Galactic Girl while she, in turn, tries to rid the planet of The Boss, the androgynous female leader of the Villains. Meanwhile, The Boss is in a lesbian relationship with The Flame, who wants a baby of her own.
Galactic Girl and the Villains have history with each other and scores to settle. Of course, our superheroine emerges victorious. Or does she? The final scene hints at a future battle of good and evil.
MRT's audience already knows Kaplan's work. Her previous play, "Home of the Brave," is the best-selling world premiere in the theater's 39-year history. It foreshadows the difficulties a woman candidate for president might encounter. In "The Villains' Supper Club," she draws from her own experience as a new mother trying to keep many balls in the air.
Kristen Mengel-Koch plays Galactic Girl with flare. She, too, is a familiar MRT face, appearing most recently in "Lost Laughs: The Slapstick Tragedy of Fatty Arbuckle."
The scenery and stage design bring the qualities of a graphic novel to life, making it possible to believe that the characters are speaking to us from speech balloons on quickly turning pages. Narration provides context, but the gender of the narrator changes to provide a different perspective on the characters' antics.
The play runs through May 20, and, of course, Mother's Day falls within its schedule. It might make the perfect gift for busy mothers in Greater Lowell.
The energy that runs through this concluding play of MRT's 39th season should have audiences waiting eagerly for the opening of the 40th season in September.