What could be more wholesome than a moms-and-daughters Girl Scout getaway in the mountains? Campfires. Sing-alongs. S’mores. If that’s what you’re expecting out of Janece Shaffer’s one-act Brownie Points, now on stage at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado, hold on to your merit badges.
The story of Scout moms Allison (Karson St. John), Deidre (Monique Gaffney), Sue (Cynthia Gerber), Nicole (Kaja Amado Dunn) and Jamie (Erika Beth Phillips) and their unseen daughters camping out (actually they’re inside a cabin) in the north Georgia mountains begins innocently enough. Everything is good-natured chaos, as is typical of trips like these, and the mothers’ chief anxiety is focused on the girls in their charge having a good time. But when the two African-American moms, Deidre and Nicole, discover that bossy Allison has assigned them kitchen duties for the duration of the weekend, all hell (or heck, lest any of the impressionable daughters be listening) breaks out. The tone of Shaffer’s play, directed for Lamb’s by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, shifts from carefree to tense, and the volume is ratcheted up to the level of talking heads on a cable “news” show.
The fuse is lit when Deidre calls Allison a racist, and we don’t find out until much later that more than the kitchen assignment had something to do with the accusation. The noisy confrontation and resulting chasm between these two women, with the other three mothers in varied degrees of exasperation, makes Brownie Points anything but a group bonding experience. Or so we think. The last scene, unwinding at 2 in the morning long after the Scouts are asleep, brings all the moms, even the combatants, peacefully together again. So much so that the Carpenters’ saccharine “Close To You” finds its way into the proceedings.
There is much baring of soul and conscience in Brownie Points, and to some degree the comic relief ceases to relieve. Once we know Deidre’s story of what happened on her way up to the mountains, the rest just doesn’t seem funny, or much fun, anymore. That could well be playwright Shaffer’s point. If so, a closure more powerful than the one delivered is called for. The Carpenters don’t cut it.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat