Night, Mother is a resonate deep unforgettable play. I first saw it in 1983 on Broadway and was moved by it. It is a play about a woman, Jessie (Erin Cronican), who will be committing suicide in two hours. Within the two hours, we hear her thoughts on life as well as her loves and her failings. Jessie goes about her business as if it is just another night. On this night, however, she points out everything that her mother will need when she is gone. Jessie has left nothing to caution. She tells her mom where the food is, rations her pills and throws out the garbage for her. It will be Jessie’s last night on this Earth.
Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize story is masterful. As an audience we feel for Jessie, we feel for Mama (Carla Brandberg), as well. Norman brings to life pretty much everyone’s family, the crazy child, father issues, mother/daughter relationships and peoples fears and disappointments. The play, if you dissect it, is brilliant, in that Norman has Jessie doing something about her innocuous life. The other question Norman presents to the audience is, do we have the right to take our own lives? Night, Mother is so well written, we are presented with these questions and we watch it all play out.
In a small venue like Paradise Factory, lighting and directing are key here. Without good lighting, a show like Night, Mother will not work. Joyce Liao did a magnificent job with this performance. Under red and blue, multi colored lights, the two characters are brought into focus. Liao has the two in the cross hairs, and as an audience, we pay attention to the plight of each individual in the play. As the end nears, she is deft in bringing the lights lower, and in the end, the red eerie color which signifies what is the ultimate awakening for Mama.
Director Brandon Walker had the two characters always keeping us interested. Unlike when I saw the play in 1983, we have more focus on Jessie’s epilepsy, her not being able to work and the loss of the two men whom she truly loved. Walker presents the mothers life, the sacrifices that she made throughout her life and without questioning anything. Mother was a strong women, stoic in her mannerisms, yet a loving women. We see how she got things done without any fan fair. She choose Jessie’s husband for her. She stayed with her husband even though she did not love him. She kept both Jessie and the husband safe from the ugly seizures that they both suffered. Walker depicts Mama’s strength as understating as the women herself.
Carla Brandberg was a standout in Night, Mother. She played a sacrificing farm women who gave it all for her children, grandchildren and her husband. Never one to complain, Brandberg delivers her role brilliantly. Mama was not a meddler, she was a pragmatic, who tried to make her daughter see the good in the world, tried to make her feel better about herself. She listens to Jessie as her daughter describes her useless life. Walker has Mama as a strong women, but not one to step over her boundaries. Brandberg’s facial expressions and movements make this play a success.
A Number was the first play to perform last night. Only an hour long, the play, it’s writing, and the acting was very confusing. The shows premise is based on cloning. The father, Salter, has cloned his oldest son that at first, we believe, died at four-years-old, then, two-years-old. Never clear what was going on in the play, we are faced with two Bernards and one clone named Michael.
What tries to be “sci-fi,” tries to be deep, the play never catches it stride. Not very well acted nor directed, the show leaves you trying to catch the base of the story, never able to get it. We can never figure out why, at the beginning of the play, is Bernard laughing like a hyena? The show is miscast and misdirected. We never feel any emotion for the two actors during this show. The play is slow in writing and slow in acting it out.
Caryl Churchill, the writer, tries to give us suspense and a deep story but clearly misses the mark on both. The writing just is not good. A Numberleaves the audience wondering what they are looking at and what is the nature of this play. Nothing is laid out in any detail as to characters points, the characters purpose, nor the stories reasoning.