New York City Theater
Marsha Norman's "'Night, Mother" has been brought back to Broadway in revival, and deservedly so. What makes this play so strong is its focus. Norman takes one theme and never lets go, never gets side-tracked. And, under Michael Mayer's direction, the story moves relentlessly, inevitably forward, fulfilling its fate like a Greek tragedy.
This powerful two-character drama deals with suicide-its justifications and its consequences. After 90 minutes of non-stop dialogue, which is emotionally draining for all concerned, "'Night, Mother" sends the theatergoer out into the night with tumultuous thoughts. The play concerns itself with the ultimate existential questions. What is the meaning of life, and why are we here?
Two top-notch actresses-Edie Falco as Jessie and Brenda Blethyn as Thelma-play out this drama. Jessie has decided that her life is not worth continuing. She is an epileptic, she cannot hold down a job, she is divorced from her husband, and her son is in jail. She has been reduced to living with her mother, a woman who is concerned with the everyday household trivia and never looks below the surface.
It is difficult to fault two such fine actresses, but one wishes Blethyn had played Thelma in a more fluttery, child-like way, and Falco had come across as more of a loser-as in earlier productions of this show. Consequently, it is a little harder to buy into Thelma's dependency and Jessie's choice of suicide.
As to the story, Jessie calmly goes about her preparations for suicide. She has found a gun in the attic, and she has purchased bullets. But, first, she must follow a carefully-planned agenda. She must explain to her dependent mother how to operate the washing machine, when to order groceries, where the fuses are kept, and so on. She even tells her mother whom to call after her suicide-which people and in what order. Initially, her mother is in denial, and then, finally realizing that Jessie means business, she pleads, threatens, cajoles. But all to no avail.
The dialogue, in ever-mounting intensity, goes back and forth like a ping-pong game. Along the way, between careful directions as to where extra paper goods are stored, Jessie's whole life and the family dynamics are laid bare. A memorable piece.
-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 13, 2004