“Mom’s Gift” gives on
Phil Olsen’s award-winning play to run two additional weeks due to popular demand
Judith Gabriel Vinje
“Mom’s Gift,” the hilarious and poignant award-winning play by Minnesotaborn Phil Olson, has been extended by popular demand for two more weeks at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood, CA, where it has been drawinglaughs and tears in its overwhelmingly successful world premier run.
Set in a suburban Minneapolis home, the tragic-comic “dramedy” that transports audiences from guffaws to sniffles in seconds, will now close on Sunday, Feb. 2.
Time rarely moves so fast on stage as in “Mom’s Gift.” The rapid-fire succession of uproarious one-liners and poignant family revelations brings the audience to the completely unexpected surprise ending in what seems like a flash.
The set-up is based on a daughter’s therapist-ordered return to her family home on her father’s 60th birthday. Mom has been dead for 11 months, but she “shows up” at the party as a ghost with a mission – to accomplish a few tasks so she can finally earn her wings and “live” in eternal peace.
But there are so many things to fix in this minimally functional Swensen family. And the problem is complicated by the fact that the only person who can hear or see Mom is her daughter. But one by one the family’s secrets are peeled away revealing a shocking truth that even shocks the visiting apparition.
Sherry Netherland directed the Los Angeles production with verve and subtlety.
The play’s tone is a departure from Olson’s quirky musicals like the famous “Don’t Hug Me” series. His mother Ruth died in 2006 from breast cancer. Six years later, wanting to “do something for her,” he started writing “Mom’s Gift” as a tribute to her in 2012, using his Garrison Keillor-type flair to capture a very tragic event with comedy, warmth and Minnesota reserve.
Olson grew up in Edina, Minn. His father’s grandparents emigrated from Norway and homesteaded a farm near Grand Forks, N.D. His mother’s grandparents also came from Norway and settled in Virginia, Minn.
He didn’t want to be a writer. He played varsity football, basketball and track at Edina High School, winning the Minnesota State High School competition in the discus. He was recently inducted into the Edina High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
After high school, he majored in math at Dartmouth College and ended up pursuing a business career. He was fully 40 years old when he wrote his first play. Many characters in his plays are based on people he knew growing up in Minnesota.”
“Mom’s Gift” has won more awards than any of his other plays. Olson’s 13 published plays have had more than 300 productions around the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
“Mom’s Gift” is the winner of the McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Competition, the World Series of Screenwriting Best Stage Play, Northern Writes Playwright Festival, and others.
“Mom’s Gift” will be his seventh play published by Samuel French. The others include the “Don’t Hug Me” series musicals, set in a small town in northern Minnesota. A new sequel, “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married,” is set to open in 2014.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 24, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.