My mom is trying to ruin my life. A simple sentence that has become a catchphrase for generations of young people. But one of these life-ruining moms recently embraced her status and wrote a children’s book in honor of her role as the so-called villain in her daughter’s life.
“It’s a tribute to all the well-meaning but overprotective moms out there, ruining their children’s lives,” said Kate Feiffer, the author of My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life, published in 2009. Now Ms. Feiffer is taking her work to the stage, having adapted the book into a full-length play with the help of MJ Bruder Munafo, executive artistic director of the Vineyard Playhouse. On Monday, August 6, it will be the featured reading in the playhouse Monday Night Specials series held at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.
In her book, Ms. Feiffer lists specific ways in which the fictional yet universal mom publicly embarrasses her daughter, Emma, through acts of love. Way Number Two was the inspiration for the book, and it was something Ms. Feiffer did to her elementary school daughter, Maddy Alley.
“It was a cold morning,” said Ms. Feiffer. “Maddy went to school in a sweater and pants.” Then, as the day warmed up, Ms. Feiffer began worrying about her daughter sweating it out, so to speak, in her sweater.
“I thought she must be boiling, so I showed up in the lunchroom with a change of clothes for her. She gave me a look. She didn’t say anything but she gave me this look that said, ‘What are you doing to me?’”
Other embarrassing “momisms” featured in Ms. Feiffer’s book include public facial-kissing attacks, forbidding sugary cereals and constant worrying. Dad comes in to add stringent bedtimes and excessive endorsements of doing homework and cleaning bedrooms.
Ms. Feiffer first began thinking about adapting the book for stage after running into Ms. Bruder Munafo at the Artisans Fair in 2009, asking her if they could team up and turn one of Ms. Feiffer’s 11 books into a play.
“Sure. Which one?” asked Ms. Bruder Munafo, who then went to work producing a script with input from Ms. Feiffer. After reading through the script, though, the two women felt it was not yet ready.
“It was funny as a play, but something was missing,” said Ms. Feiffer. The writers agreed — it was begging for some songs.
Paul Jacobs was enlisted to create the music, and Sarah Durkee wrote the lyrics. Both musicians have won Emmys for their work on Sesame Street. The music for My Mom Is Trying To Ruin My Life spans multiple styles. There’s a Jailhouse Blues number when the couple goes behind bars for their crimes of caring, and the song Dad Rules sounds like a Frank Sinatra original. It will be performed in the deep baritone voice of Paul Munafo,
“I can hear [Paul] singing it,” said Ms. Feiffer, with her eyes closed and a smile on her face.
“It’s a rockin’ musical,” added Ms. Bruder Munafo.
Emma, the victim of her mother’s sabotage, will be played by Katie Morse, a rising Island sixth grader. “She played the mouse in the West Tisbury School play,” said Ms. Bruder Munafo. “She stole the show.”
“The first read was right on,” added Ms. Feiffer. “These parts have to be read in a certain way, and you could just tell she was a perfect fit.”
Working with so many people to produce a play is a big leap from a career as a children’s book author. Though her family is “deeply entrenched” in theatre, this is a first for Ms. Feiffer herself.
“It’s been thrilling,” she said. “It got me through this Vineyard winter.”
But she does admit to nervous anticipation. “The worries are that it doesn’t make sense, doesn’t piece together. That it won’t be funny. But the hopes and expectations are that it will be funny and it will just be a very fun evening.”
Ms. Bruder Munafo doesn’t feel those nerves.
“I’m not worried,” she said. “It’s all in the delivery and there are great actors reading. It’s a very funny play.”
The staged reading (and singing) takes place on Monday, August 6, at 7 p.m. at the Hebrew Center, 130 Center street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children under 18. All proceeds benefit the Vineyard Playhouse. A reception follows the performance with books available for purchase. Visit vineyardplayhouse.org.