Theatre Review: “‘night, Mother”
In Marsha Norman’s emotionally charged “’night, Mother,” Jessie, daughter of Thelma “Mama” Cates, has moved in with Mama after her painful and unwanted divorce.
It’s clear the two have fallen into a routine of humdrum daily tasks and Jessie has become complacent and disenchanted with her life as it stands. Jessie’s dissatisfaction comes to a head when she announces calmly to her mother, after asking where her deceased father’s gun is kept, that she intends to commit suicide that evening. The rest of the play exposes the series of events that led up to Jessie coming to the conclusion that she can no longer go on.
The play, directed by David Emerson Toney for Firehouse Theatre Project, stars Catherine Shaffner and Kimberly Jones Clark as mother and daughter, Thelma “Mama” Cates and Jessie Cates.
“’night, Mother” is a short play with a run time of about 90 minutes and only two cast members. I will admit when I read the description of what I was about to see, I was pretty sure I was in for one depressing evening, but Norman’s script is brilliant. The feeling of the play is quite dark with the subject of suicide being hotly debated throughout; between a mother who is fighting for her daughter to stay alive and a daughter who’s decision to end her own life appears to be quite finite.
Norman’s characters are very well-developed, highlighting the contrast of Mama who is seemingly content with the simplicity of her life and Jessie who has never been able to find satisfaction.
Shaffner and Jones Clark have excellent chemistry, which is paramount for such a somber production. Jones Clark is methodical and serious as Jessie, as she walks her mother through every detail of taking care of the house after she “goes.” Shaffner gives a magnificent performance as Mama pushing herself to the limit and fully committing to her character’s heartbreak.
The set by Edwin Slipek is very simple, bright and open with a cozy farmhouse feel to it. The openness of the set provides a perfect view of all of the action on stage. Joey Luck’s technical direction is very strong; I was impressed by the clarity of the sound on opening night. Rounding out this impressive production is the precise direction of Toney who ensures his actresses make full use of the stage and props creating a show that is dynamic and fast paced; a feat which could have been challenging with such a small cast.
“’night, Mother is playing at Firehouse Theatre Project through October 19th.
www.firehousetheatre.org for information
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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