Raleigh Little Theatre
Through Sept. 28
It's not the most cheerful way to spend an hour and a half, but Raleigh Little Theatre's production of 'night, Mother is a superb showcase for actors Linda O'Day Young and Martie Todd Sirois in a drama that gets under your skin. Marsha Norman's 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner is a disconcerting exercise in suspense and family drama that leaves people talking as they leave the theater; it's unsentimental yet eerily real.
'night, Mother unfolds in real time over the course of an evening with Thelma Cates (Young) and her daughter, Jessie (Sirois). Middle-aged and dumpily dressed Jessie lives with Thelma as an unofficial caretaker, doing minor tasks and making sure the older woman's supply of candy is well-stocked. Just a few minutes into the play, Jessie nonchalantly announces to Thelma that she's going to kill herself. From there, the clock is ticking.
Mother's strength comes from its distressingly realistic depictions of Thelma's and Jessie's mundane lives. Even in its short run time, we learn everything we need to know about these two women, without any long, expository speeches. Sirois captures the right note with Jessie, who gradually reveals the extent to which she's been planning her demise. Suffering from a failed marriage, a delinquent son and painful bouts of epilepsy, she's calmly resigned to the fact that there is nothing more waiting for her in life, and she goes about her last night as though she were simply leaving for a trip. Young gets into the meat of Thelma, as her character's initial bewilderment gives way to sorrow, anger and surprising ferocity, throwing out family secrets in a desperate attempt to keep her daughter both alive and in her life.
These are heavy themes, but Norman's writing and Jesse Gephart's direction keep the story moving and avoid a grim, dour tone. That in turn makes Mother's message all the more effective; it's about the combination of selfishness and need for control that drives people to Jessie's situation, and the need to understand each other before it's too late. Mother is a thought-provoking piece of writing and acting—and one that'll make you want to call your parents afterward.