It won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1983, but in the more than 30 years since it debuted, “‘night Mother” has not seen a ton of performances across the United States. That is because the subject of Marsha Norman’s powerful script is a very difficult one to process. It is about a grown daughter who informs her mother that she plans to take her own life that evening. It’s depressing and downright scary. It’s also a brilliant piece of theater.
They live together in a nice house in the rural south. The mother, Thelma (Susan Blair), is a widow, who we learn married young, and never loved her husband. The daughter, Jesse (Allison Deratzian) has suffered from epileptic seizures for most of her life. Alone, divorced, with an irresponsible son from whom she is estranged, she lives with her mother. She says she is done — finished. She sees no purpose in going on and decides to tell her mother, not so she can be talked out of it, but so her mother can understand her dilemma and not feel guilty about the decision.
What follows is the unearthing of the story of these two women’s lives. As Thelma tries to talk her daughter from her plan, they reveal to each other not only some of the lies that pervaded their lives, but the struggles each had previously hidden from the other. All the while, Thelma is hoping that she is convincing Jesse why life is worth living. If it is not always a rational explanation, that is because the emotional involvement of a mother, confronted with such a devastating proposition, is not rational.
One minute, she is cajoling Jesse, the next, she is railing at her. What unravels is not just the frustration of the troubled daughter, but the anxiety-ridden life of the mother in trying to care for her. It’s a complex story, and in the hands of a less talented cast, might be over dramatized. But under the smooth direction of David Deratzian, the two actors are real people. not merely stereotypes. The writing is forceful and honest. As a result, we care about these people, as we wonder what the outcome will be.
“‘night Mother” is not for everyone. With a cast of only two, community theaters avoid it because it won’t put people in the seats. But if like me, you often go to the theater not just to be entertained by a song or amused by comedy, you will appreciate this fine production of a profound drama of substance.
IF YOU GO
1880 Theatricals at The Centre Theater, 208 De Kalb Street, Norristown, PA 19401, 610-653-7257. Tickets- $25. thru Sept. 23, 2017.