Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

"It wasn't as much a downer as I expected." one member of the audience observed during the post-performance discussion Monday night as the Pro Femina Theatre's second edition of "Mother, May I?"

And it wasn't, and that is not a backhanded compliment. Rather praise for the efforts of the three company members who explore the mother-daughter relationship with feeling, some insight and a touch of humor. At least, they realize the complexities of the human relationship, and mothers are not turned into monsters.

The mother-son relationship has been probed since the days of Oedipus in Greek tragedy. But not so much attention has been given to mothers and daughters either literature or on the stage.

This is the second go-round for the cast on the theme - an earlier version was performed last May - and carries into a third generation, with a "daughter" becoming a "mother."

The three personal documentaries that make up the second edition of "Mother, May I?" form a "theater piece," as the Pro Femina Theatre calls it, rather than a structured drama.

But the three women who wrote and act the roles bring theatrical xpertise and imagination to the staging to dramatize their own experiences and observations. The trio - Leslie Bravman Jacobson, Susan Patz Mclnerney and Barbara Kane Mills - all have had professional experience. The framework for their viewpoints (one can hardly say stories) is the Court of Family Complex. Three cases are heard. In the first, the daughter is suing her mother for damages to her life (Jacobson says the vignette was written before the recent suit filed by a son against his parents). In the next case, a daughter is seeking a "divorce" from her mother on grounds of imcompatibility. In the third, a daughter, now grown into a mother, wants to go back to the status of being a daughter again.

What makes this device more than a gimmick is the tome with which that material is handled. There is feeling for mothers who have grown old, feeling useless and once had dreams of their own - even if these same mothers won't let go and lay guilt trips on their daughters and push motherhood as the only fulfilment.

In one skit, there is a scene of a guilt-tripping "game show" in which mother and daughter each try to make the other feel more guilty. Another skit uses body language of a sideshow "Divided Lady" to show a daughter pulled apart.

The Pro Femina Theatre tours with its shows, which usually include an audience-participation discussion at the end. The company has performed before groups such as the University of Maryland Family Development Center and the Jewish Community Center.

The hour-long second edition of "Mother, May I?" will be performed at the New Playwright's Theatre, 1742 Church St, NW. 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. next Monday and Tuesday. Each performance will be followed by audience-participation discussion.