Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – When it premiered in the 1980s, Marsha Norman’s drama “’night, Mother” was described in one memorable review as “ultimately shattering.”
This reviewer has no hidden agenda. To be clear, to me suicide has always seemed the ultimate example of human surrender, and not at all in a Buddhist sense.
It is something that triggers horror and introspection for those left behind. In every case of friends who have taken their own lives, especially those I knew in childhood, the question “why” never has a really satisfactory answer.
This story attempts to explain — in a way that is sometimes sympathetic and often decidedly not – one woman’s “why.” The writing and construction of this well-performed 90-minute story about two people — mother and daughter, residing at the edge of reason – seems pretty straight-forward.
This disturbing tale is entirely submerged in these troubled times in which we live, as despair of all kinds – personal, economic, even political and cultural – races like a western Oklahoma wildfire through the lives of Americans.
The Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) production opened last weekend, and continues in the “CitySpace” Theatre in the basement of the Civic Center, 201 N. Walker Avenue. The upcoming performances are on Friday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday April 16 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 17 at 1:30 p.m.
There are two stars, and each inhabits her character will complete authenticity.
Pam Dougherty plays Thelma Cates, an aging woman who is still well enough to spend time knitting, watching television and needling her daughter.
Kris Schinske is the daughter, Jessie Cates.
The story covers less than two hours, from the time Jessie finds a family gun in the attic of the simple home the two share, until the ending. And, that ending is telegraphed without artifice or falsehood.
Jessie tells Thelma she is going to kill herself and use the gun to do it.
The two women argue in ways both predictable and surprising – about their shared past, and the future they will spend apart. There are a few tender moments, with memories of those the women … remember.
If not loved, they are at least remembered.
Other moments are as raw and despair-inducing as can be imagined.
If you have the strength for it, this is power-drama at its best, without a leavening of happiness.
After a short break at the show’s conclusion, CityRep is hosting a time for discussion and community care about issues attendant to suicide. That time to decompress might, for many, be well-advised.
It is hard to improve on what others have said before, so here are some previous reflections:
The drama is described by CityRep as an “eloquent, enthralling and ultimately shattering play [which] explores the final hour in the life of a young woman who has decided that life is no longer worth living.”
When it opened, New York Magazine wrote the play was “…honest, uncompromising, lucid, penetrating, well-written, dramatic, and…unmanipulatively moving.”
The New England Entertainment Digest went so far as to declare, “It is sparse and concise, introspective and penetrating, powerful and uncompromising, intense and intelligent, warm and theatrical. It is THE American tragedy.”
Wrote a prominent critic for The Village Voice:
“Something I hadn’t seen in a long time happened at ‘NIGHT, MOTHER: The audience still sat applauding after the house lights came up, as if waiting for the cast to come round and join them.”
The New York Times review three decades ago simply stated the play was “a shattering evening.”
Ticket prices vary; for information or to purchase visit CityRep.com ’24/7’ or telephone 405- 848-3761 Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Or, you can try to purchase a seat at the Civic Center box office on the days of performance.
This is not the kind of play where you say to someone, as the house lights come back up: “Did you enjoy the show?”
It is the kind of story, however, that will long linger in memory.