Why do we willingly attend plays we know don’t end happily? This past Sunday we gassed up Esteemed Colleague’s sleek, new jet black Toyota and happily cruised the c. 7 1/2 hour trek up I-35 to Oklahoma City from Dallas and back at 80+mph to attend Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s production of Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ‘night, Mother. No Spoiler Alert from me: it’s a painful portrait of the final, grim afternoon spent by a mother and her adult daughter debating the daughter’s impending suicide. If you plan to attend this show, you need to know where it’s going to take you. Heaven help anyone who wanders in unprepared, expecting some sort of light comedy. CityRep’s production honors the work impeccably; the matinee we attended was one of the most spellbinding, if unsettling, performances either of us have ever seen. Even though the first ten minutes made us weep, we were glad we saw the show. What of the ritual redemptive experience of great live theatre? We both emerged better, stronger people for the experience. Art, this good, this well executed, inspires and transforms.
‘night, Mother ran for 380 performances on Broadway in 1983/84, starring Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak and directed by Tom Moore, receiving four Tony Award nominations. Bittersweet, c. 90 minutes with no intermission, it provides the perfect vehicle for two remarkable actors and a strong director to create profoundly affecting performance art. Always spot on with its edgy social dramas (The Amish Project, Red, November, The Normal Heart), CityRep defines again a level of regional excellence in producing a work that can change lives and touch hearts and souls. Pam Dougherty as Thelma, “Mama”, and Kris Schinske as Jessie reveal a familial bond so empowered with desperate dignity and clarity in its final hour that the simple act of folding laundry gains an epic, tragic dimension. Directed with reverence for honest realism by Ruth Charnay, distinguished Oklahoma theatre professor and CityRep’s Board President, Dougherty’s Thelma staggers across an excruciating arc, exploring all the identifiable stages of grief as if they were stations on The Cross. Dougherty never plays for sympathy. Each stage of grief she passes through seems a believably surprise embodiment arising out of natural occurrence. Schinske’s grim determination and unwavering resignation provide a “flat line” of emotional void in contrast. Jessie isn’t turning back, foregone conclusion. “I am what became of your child.” These actors listen to each other so well on stage it becomes easy to “forget” the play and abide in the reality of their lives. Hope never leaves the CityRep stage, somehow, even knowing the play’s ultimate destination. I found myself imagining that this time the end could be different, that this time, Thelma would prevail and save her daughter. Life is full of unfortunate choices, roads less traveled, joys and sorrows. Death is suffocating in finality. Watching someone choose it, in this magnificent play, in this outstanding CityRep production, is unforgettable. And well worth the trip up from, back to, Dallas in that sleek black Toyota. Life’s delights emerge as the simplest of things.
CityRep’s intimate set is a lovingly constructed model of humble detail, the functional kitchen/living space of a modest home, designed by Scott C. Hynes, who also designed lights. Sound by Steve Emerson, costumes by Andy Wallach and stage combat by Matthew E. Ellis fall smoothly in line with Charnay’s direction and the extraordinary, “ordinary” reality of the work. “I can’t fix it all, Jessie.”
Talkbacks after are conducted by members of the mental health and counseling community. You will not feel alone.
RUN CONCLUDES: April 15-17 (Friday and Sat at 7:30pm , Sat and Sun at 1:30pm)
Civic Center Music Hall – CitySpace Theatre
(405) 848-3761 http://www.cityrep.com/