’Night, Mother is about daughter Jessie carefully preparing her suicide, and mother Thelma unable to stop her. The play is, in real time, about the 90 minutes leading up to the act, and it manages to seem inevitable and unsurprising, like a Greek tragedy; perfectly perspicuous and involving, yet beyond comprehension. Why would someone so mentally together choose, however dreary her life, to kill herself? Marsha Norman, the author, conveys the simultaneous monstrousness and ordinariness of this event: that Jessie both solicitously provides for her mother’s future and abandons her, coolly matter-of-fact about what strikes most of us as the ultimate irrational act. The women’s psyches are rigorously delved into, there is a good deal of humor mixed with the tragic, and it is all, against the odds, so seemingly mundane. In the original 1983 production, the Pulitzer Prize–winning play starred Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates. Bates made you feel why Jessie’s husband left her, her total unemployability, and perhaps even why her son was turning into a criminal: Somehow it was all subsumed by her ungainly obesity. Pitoniak was so desperately frail that her survival seemed seriously iffy. Now, conversely, Edie Falco does Jessie with an edgy, self-righteous revanchism, while Brenda Blethyn’s earthier, more grounded Thelma bespeaks what might be presumed a likelier survivor. Logically, the 1983 cast came across more patently foredoomed, but the current one may, almost inadvertently, better suggest the quirkiness and inscrutability of destinies. Neil Patel’s set, Michael Krass’s costumes, and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting contribute, under Michael Mayer’s assenting direction, to the aura of middle-class complacency. The quiet horror of what follows may be less fatalistically tragic but also more widely applicable. Still, viewers haunted by the 1983 original might be disappointed.
by Marsha Norman
At The Royale Theatre