By Melanie Weir
A young boy who loved performing and Barbra Streisand, born in Greeneville, Tennessee in 1953, and raised by his Christian grandmother. If you think you know what this story will be about, think again.
Eugene Wolf was born to a young mother of the Christ Church faith and her brand‑new Catholic husband, shortly after their marriage. Within the first year of his life, his father left, never to be seen again, and he and his mother moved in with his grandparents, whom he would come to know as Mamaw and Daddy. While his mother and grandfather worked, Eugene was left home with his grandmother. Bonding through church visits, country music, and talent shows, the two became inseparable. So inseparable, in fact, that when Eugene’s mother met and married Dale, and they moved into a new house, three‑year‑old Eugene spent the whole first night away crying for his Mamaw. It broke his mother’s heart to hear him cry so much, so back in with Mamaw and Daddy he moved‑and stayed there.
The ninety‑minute show “The Book of Mamaw” describes Mr. Wolf’s experiences growing up with his Mamaw, a woman who loved church, hated hippies (at first), and, above all, loved music and her grandson. Mr. Wolf describes her home full of music. She pushed him to enter talent shows, cultivating his love of performing. They attended church together, dressed up and chatting about who was‑and was not‑there. His grandparents played pranks on him while he was hypnotized by the lovely Barbra Streisand. He alternated between narrating these stories, exploring them musically, and acting them out. Each way was delightful, and filled with humor and love.
Mr. Wolf was charming to listen to, both because of his wonderful Tennessee accent, and because of the way he told anecdotes, with vivid imagery and unique turns of phrase that painted a unique and clear picture of what life with Mamaw and Daddy was like. One of his funniest moments was when he described staying with his Mama and Dale for six weeks in the summer. Although he was sure that some indulgences were sinful and some were not, he “wasn’t too sure about pizza.”
When singing, his voice was just as delightful. He maintained his accent, and had a delightfully unique tenor that brought life to the music he grew up with. Each time he sang, the audience seemed completely rapt. In one particular instance, his rendition of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” had the audience singing along gleefully, without so much as a nod in prompt from him. If unhesitating and unwavering audience participation in a sing‑along isn’t an indication of true enjoyment, I don’t know what is. And it truly was a joy to listen to the music this family grew up with, and watch that music, the family, and the boy evolve, side by side.
When acting out his stories, Mr. Wolf switched back and forth between characters so seamlessly, and with so much specificity of gesture and tone, that it would seem like his family members‑and even his very young self‑were right there on stage with him. Perhaps, in a way, they were. When he does an impression of his Mamaw introducing him to churchgoers or customers at the restaurant where they both worked when he was a teen, or when he imitates his Daddy lighting up a secret cigarette in the car with him on his way to high school, it’s almost as if he is bringing them back to life. His performance is a lovely reminder that the people we love live on through our memories of them.
“The Book of Mamaw” is a heartwarming, laugh‑inducing, tear‑jerking story of one boy’s love for his grandmother, and how that love shaped and changed his life. Eugene Wolf takes his life story, sets it to the music he grew up loving, and creates something that not only makes you laugh, smile, and feel good, but renews your faith in people and your hope for the future of society. Because at the end of the day, no matter what religion you identify with, what ideals you subscribe to, or what labels you align with, all that really matters is that you are loving, supportive, and kind to the people in your life. And in a world filled increasingly with vitriol, division and fear, that is an important reminder indeed.
In the end, when Mr. Wolf wonders, “What would Mamaw think?” about his fascination with the Muslim faith while staying in Morocco, we realize we already know the answer: It doesn’t matter what she would think. No matter her opinion, she would still love her little grandson Gene. If there is one core message in Eugene Wolf’s performance, it’s that we should all try to follow the tenets of the Book of Mamaw.
“The Book of Mamaw”
Performed by Eugene Wolf
Directed by Susanne Boulle
October 26 and 30 at 4 PM
Photo by Billie Wheeler
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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MELANIE WEIR is an actor, singer and writer, and a graduate of Seton Hall University’s Theatre and Creative Writing programs. She has spent the past several years trying on several new theatre hats, including directing, playwrighting, songwriting, and editing, with the tight-knit group from her college program. She has also established herself as a freelance writer, and has been published on various blogs and websites, including Business Insider.