STOCKBRIDGE -- A mother with a daughter adopted from China, a wakeful newborn, a son on the autism spectrum, a son serving in Afghanistan ... mothers take the stage tonight.
Susan Rose was producing on Broadway, after her daughter, Samantha, was born, when she conceived the idea of a play about motherhood -- mothers talking about being mothers, from giving birth to growing old.
She thought of it as a universal theme never really explored, she said: "I thought, ‘God, this is so obvious -- how come no one's ever done this before?'"
With co-producer Joan Stein, Rose commissioned more than 60 writers of many backgrounds and ages to write about motherhood. The stories, chiefly monologues, move across time, from newborns to kids going off to college. They are all autobiographical except for one, Rose said: playwright David Cale's scene, a middle-aged man coming home to parent his elderly mother.
On Friday, March 28, and Saturday, March 29, Tony-nominated actress Jayne Atkinson, who performed last summer with Berkshire Theater Group, will direct "Motherhood Out Loud," starring Jane Kaczmarek and Atkinson's husband, Michel Gill, with a cast of local actors, nearly all of them mothers.
The performances, rounding off the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, will benefit the festival and WAM Theatre's initiatives to help women and girls.
Rose is glad to see the show come to the Berkshires now. Stein was managing director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival in the 1980s, and she passed away two years ago, at 59.
Atkinson admired the play's "scope of mothering."
It reaches out warmly to include a son mothering his mother and a girl with two fathers.
"We choose our families," she said. "A family can look any way. A family is where there's love, comfort, care, boundaries, safety, people who will steward you and help you to be who you are."
The play moves in a flow of monologues and conversations, between laughing and crying.
"It's comedic, as birth tends to be when you look back on it -- not when you're in it," said Tyler Malik, who gives the final monologue. "That's what I love about the whole piece. The comedy and joy and sadness. The sadness of losing them as children, the joy of having them."
As these parents speak, listeners can feel the intensity of the bond between them and their children, the need to protect them, to be honest with them, fear for their safety.
"From the minute your child is born," Atkinson said, you face the question "when do you hold them close and when do you let them go? When do you stand by them and when do you let them make their own way?"
Rose found a fear of judgement surfacing in many stories: "'I'm not good enough. I don't fit in. What's wrong. ... As a mom you have a strong feeling of being judged," she said. "What will people think of me if I think this is OK?
"It's difficult. When you become a mother, it's all new territory for everyone. You follow your heart and raise [your children] as you think they should be raised -- without outside influences -- with strong convictions."
"Parenthood's not for sissies," Atkinson said.
"And if you are one, it'll turn you into something else quickly," Gill said.
"Early on, when Jeremy was a kid and Jayne was in a show, I was trying to be both parents," he said, "and I realized I couldn't."
He had to learn to be a father.
"There's no model for this," he said. "It's an open slate. Jeremy can help. Jayne helps. We figure this out. I'm not using [the model of the father] I had."
And parenting is something no one can teach, Rose said. She did not know how to change a diaper before she had a daughter. She used to lie awake with the baby monitor, listening and waiting for a sound.
Atkinson remembered the absorbtion and exhaustion of looking after a young baby.
"There isn't a monologue when a woman is in PJs and has been in them all day because she can't get her hair brushed and her clothing changed," she said.
If not that one, with Rose's blessing, Atkinson has added a new monologue to each performance. Four local women have each written their own monologues, from a road trip with an adolescent daughter to the loss of a mother.
"Motherhood Out Loud" has played across the country. At the end of each show, Rose said, people want to stay and talk, to share experiences and stories.
She once met a woman in the bathroom, in tears, who said she had to call own mother -- and that she had decided not to have children, and she was questioning her choice.
Like the writers, audiences, men and women and teenagers, have felt the play close to them.
"Everyone has a mother," Rose and Gill agreed.
And Atkinson wants mothers' voices to sound out loudly now.
In the wake of Sandy Hook and the cynicism her son showed that anything would change, she said, having the words of mothers and children is necessary.
"How far have we come," she said, "that we don't care that children are killing themselves, living in halfway houses and being shot by other children? The people who remind us of the children are the moms." If you go ...
What: 'Motherhood Out Loud'
When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 28, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 29
Where: Unicorn Theater, 6 East St., Stockbridge
Admission: $35 for Friday performance and matinee,
$50 for Saturday evening gala benefit performance, reception