I had the good fortune of attending opening night of New City Stage’s production of ‘Night Mother last Saturday. Go see this play. It is a wrenching and relentless theatre, that’s true; it deals with the topic of suicide in a straight forward way. But there is nothing straight forward about the issues that Marsha Norman’s script addresses. Family relationships, dishonesty, disability, personal failure, misery — all of these are woven into the conversation between mother and daughter on what could have been any other normal, monotonous night in their lives.
Playwright Marsha Norman received the Hull-Warriner Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Pulitzer for this play. She and Christopher Durang are currently co-chairs of the Graduate Playwrighting Department at The Julliard School.
Director Rosey Hay trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and is Artistic Director of the New York-based REV Theatre CompanyShe has in-depth experience in directing Shakespearean works, including Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet. This experience is apparent in her approach to the direction of ‘Night Mother. There is an on-going accretion of complications and character turns which, although played subtly, have the feel of a far-reaching tragic sweep — one that promises to echo long after the evening at the theatre has ended. Norman’s characters are archetypal, and in Hay’s hands, resonate at that level.
Wendy Staton who plays Jessie, brings a strength and determination to the character that is shot through with believable vulnerability. Jessie’s endless tidying up, organizing, and list-checking behaviors conceal a character who struggles with the chaos of grand mal seizures that have destroyed her ability to live a full life. This is a sorrowful character, but she is not without wit and intelligence. That her life has been one of such disappointment doesn’t diminish her vitality as a human being. This is what makes her decision all the more tragic. Having trained and practiced as an attorney before beginning her full-time career in the theatre, Ms. Staton brings a depth and grounded quality to her performance. Previous performances include Our Town at the Arden Theatre, Romeo and Juliet and Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare in Clark Park, Love Unpunished with Pig Iron Theatre, and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings.
Cathy Simpson, as Thelma, is a mother who is slowly reaching the end of her rope, being confronted with the decision of her daughter, who announces that she is going to end her life. She tries all the old ways of nudging her daughter into a safer emotional space – humor, sharp conversation, distraction, even accusation. But what we finally see is a mother stripped of all ability to rescue her child. Ms. Simpson, winner of a Barrymore and The Kevin Kline Award, has been a company member at People’s Light and Theatre since 1994. She has also performed with Philadelphia Theatre Company, Interact Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Philly Shakespeare Theatre, the Wilma and Arden Theatres. Regional credits include the Studio Theatre, Arena Stage, The Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth, to name only a few.
Both Wendy Staton and Cathy Simpson are members of the Freedom Rising Company at the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia.
New City Stage Company is a young theatre company in Philadelphia which has shown tremendous growth in a few short years. They are dedicated to presenting high quality work which both entertains and raises issues important to the community and society. Drawing from both contemporary and classical works, their focus is on including Philadelphia premieres of playwrights whose work and focus is not usually seen on Philadelphia stages.
‘Night Mother runs now until July 3 at the Second Stage at The Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.