Once again, Newnan Theatre Company courageously examines a disturbing subject that most would prefer not to think about. This time it’s suicide. “‘ The play, “night, Mother,” by Marsha Norman. opened Sept. 26 in Newnan Theatre Company’s Black Box, the space reserved for intimate drama.
This play doesn’t answer the “why” of suicide, but It does give audiences a chance to empathize with a mother and daughter engaged in a desperate tug of war that can have only one outcome.
Jeff Allen, winner of a Newnan Theatre Company Lifetime Achievement Award, is directing “’night, Mother.”
“I’ve been pushing for this play to be on our season for a few years now,” said Allen. “I have lost friends to suicide. I think it’s more common than people like to talk about. Yes, the subject is totally depressing. But it’s real, and it’s a part of a lot of our lives. I think one of the roles of theater is not only to entertain but to inform, educate, and bring communities together to share an experience and discuss it afterwards.”
Under Allen’s direction, NTC’s cast and crew have built a set that seats the audience right inside a home. As you walk to your seat, you’ll pass through the front door (notice the meticulously recreated siding across the front of the house) and into a small living room/kitchen.
You’re in a “real” house – the stove and refrigerator are fully functional, and water flows in the kitchen sink. A ticking clock is set at the actual time of the performance. It takes just 90 minutes for Thelma to lose her struggle to save her daughter Jessie.
Betty Mitchell is playing the role of Thelma. Newnan audiences will remember her in “Rabbit Hole,” where she played the mother of a woman trying to cope with the death of her child.
“The part of Thelma is very challenging,” said Mitchell. “You just have to find who she is and what she’s going to be doing at every moment.”
“Marsha Norman must have done wonderful research,” added Mitchell, “because the play captures the thoughts and feelings of both the person planning to commit suicide and the person who tries to prevent it. Both characters are very real people, completely rounded human beings with strengths and weaknesses and foibles.”
Why does Jessie carry out her intention despite her mother’s efforts to stop her?
“One of the things I think is good about the play is that there isn’t a clear reason,” said Mitchell. “You can’t say, if this hadn’t happened, if this weren’t true, she wouldn’t have done it. In life, when you hear of someone committing suicide, you want to know why. But there isn’t a single answer. She has an illness, but it’s not life threatening. She doesn’t have any friends. She doesn’t have a lot of control over her life. However, none of those things in and of themselves should make her commit suicide. She says she’s not happy, and it doesn’t look like her life is going to get any better. So – suicide is her way of taking control.”
Is Jessie suffering from depression?
“I don’t think depression is the answer to the puzzle. I think, at this moment, she’s less depressed than she has been in the past. People who are very depressed don’t commit suicide. They have difficulty making a move of any kind. I think Jessie may have recovered enough to be able to take action.”
Why would a person want to attend this play, when they know up front that it won’t end happily?
“People go to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ even though they know it has a tragic ending. Every time I see it I think, don’t do it! And they do it every time. Even though “‘night, Mother” has a sad ending, an inevitable ending, it’s a strong play, it evokes empathy. I hope people will want to come see it.”
Melanie Carrin Jessel plays the daughter Jessie. N.I.T.W.I.T.S. fans will recognize her, and she was a member of the “On the Razzle” cast last May.
“This is a two-woman show, and there isn’t a single starring role,” said Jessel. “There are things about the characters that make them difficult in different ways, but it really is a shared show. Each character is the other’s antagonist. And they’re both protagonists.”
“We’re having talkbacks after every performance that will make it easier for people who are uncertain about coming to the show. We don’t want anybody to leave here feeling unhappy that they came. We want people to come out feeling touched, but not drained.”
“The talkbacks are especially important with this play,” added Allen, “because the audience goes through the experience right along with the characters. They see all the steps made forwards and backwards and then the actions and the reactions. Along with the characters, they’re second guessing. There are a lot of things that the mother does that I think help confirm for the daughter that she’s doing the right thing. I think they are probably not good things to do. But her reaction is a very real one. In that situation you don’t always think about the consequences.”
“That’s why we want to have the discussions afterwards. There’s no right or wrong; these are just two women, and these are their circumstances. But it gives you a point where you can ask, if I were in that situation, what would I do?”
Mark Painter, director of the Pathways Center here in downtown Newnan, will be facilitating a discussion after selected performances. As a professional counselor, Perry will respond to audience members’ feelings regarding suicide, answering questions, and processing any emotions that the play brings up. He will be here for opening night, and other counselors will be here on other nights. On nights that none of them are available, then Jessel, Mitchell and Allen will lead a discussion.
Pathways is a clinic that deals with addictive diseases and offers behavioral health services for adults and children. They’re located at 52 Perry Street, they’re open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. and their telephone number is 678-423-4610.
The 1983 production of “’night, Mother” starred Kathy Bates as Jessie, and Anne Pitoniak as Thelma. It was originally performed at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A later Broadway performance by the same cast was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and received four Tony Award nominations: Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (to both actresses), and Best Director went to Tom Moore.
In 1986, Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft starred in a film version, with the screenplay adapted by Norman herself and Tom Moore again directing. A Broadway revival starring Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn opened at the Royale Theatre on November 14, 2004, and closed on January 9, 2005.
To purchase tickets, and for show dates and times, visit Newnan Theatre Company’s web site at http://www.newnantheatre.org or visit the box office before or after any performance. The theatre is located in historic downtown Newnan at 24 First Avenue.
If you have questions regarding the content of any show, email Artistic Director Tony Daniel at email@example.com.