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Sheila Eppolito was a stay-at-home mom of three, the youngest four months old, when she got an email from a former co-worker at Boston Edison. She was thinking of writing a play about motherhood, Lisa Rafferty wrote her ߞ; would Sheila have any thoughts on the subject, anything to contribute?
“That was the beginning,” remembers Eppolito, a UMass Lowell Public Affairs staff writer. “I sent her back a bunch of childbirth stories, as well as some other mother-child kinds of stuff. All of it was pretty infected by my crazy Irish mind.”
That was eight years ago. Rafferty’s one-act play, following four women through the earliest stages of motherhood, titled “The MOMologues” and featuring a script by fellow writers Eppolito and Stephanie Cloutier, opened to a packed house at Elliot Hall in Jamaica Plain in October 2000.
Armed with that success, the team expanded its material. From early-motherhood themes ߞ; pregnancy, delivery, infant children ߞ; the canvas widened to second and third children, tooth fairies, potty training, childhood discipline and the like, added a second act, and premiered the new opus at the ICA Theatre in Boston in May 2002.
“Is that the yucky Jesus?” asks a toddler on his first visit to church, in a scene written by Eppolito. “Shhh, no honey,” answers the mortified mother, “Jesus isn’t yucky. Because of him we can make mistakes and still go to heaven.” “NO!” shouts the child, turning heads now. “I know it’s the yucky Jesus! I went to Emma’s birthday party there.”
Only then does it dawn on the benighted mother: “Yucky Jesus. Chucky E. Cheese…God help me.”
The string of successes continued. The Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth, N.H., in late 2002, then back to the ICA the following spring, followed by a run at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Then it was five weeks at the Stuart Street Playhouse in Boston in 2004, a road tour in Arlington and Norwell and a triumphant return to Manchester. In the fall of 2004, the Dutch version of the play ߞ; “Mama!” ߞ; made its European premiere and traveled through 30 cities.
“It just steamrolled,” says Eppolito, who has served from the start as the play’s main publicist. “I’d take it around to the papers, and they’d pick up the story and people would come see it, and things just went from there.”
The play has continued to widen its audience. Most recently, a two-night production at the Axis Theatre in New York’s Sheridan Square in early May, benefiting the Susan Komen Foundation against breast cancer, played again to sold-out houses.
“It’s just been fun,” Eppolito say. “Most of the time it’s funny, sometimes it hits a nerve. But it’s been fun to do every step of the way.”