Courtesy None Too Fragile
There is something particularly compelling about a play that is performed in real time, with no jumps in time like, you know, life. Plus, the interest generated by that structure is magnified when one of the two characters on stage, early on, has stated their intent to commit suicide— not someday but now.
That's the tense situation presented in 'Night Mother, the Marsha Norman play from 1983 that is now at None Too Fragile Theatre in Akron. The shock of that setup was a bit more startling 40 years ago than it is now, thanks to the past four decades of plays and films that have pummeled us with surprises too appalling to recount.
No, the disquiet of this piece arises out of an achingly normal environment, a fusty kitchen and dining area where Mama (Anne McEvoy) and her 40-something epileptic daughter Jessie (Kelly Strand) are chatting about the detritus of their lives: Jessie's failed marriage and failure of a son, and Mama's constant nattering about hot chocolate and snarky comments about a family friend—anything to stave off the task that Jessie has set for herself.
For her part, Jessie is intent on organizing Mama's imminent post-daughter life, leaving her notes about when to order the milk while simultaneously cleaning the gun she brought so it will work properly.
'Night Mother is a tight, precarious, 90-minute balancing act and under the direction of Sean Derry, Strand and McEvoy fashion a smooth, seamless patter that seems real and lived-in. However, at times it feels almost too polished and inaccessible, the briskness of the interchanges not allowing enough space for texture that could provide a richer stage medium where this fraught mother-daughter encounter could grow and flourish.
Norman's script still resonates with subtle power. When Jessie explains her reason for telling Mama about her intentions, she says, "I didn't want you to save me, I just wanted you to know." And when Mama utters the three words that any mother would share at such a time, "You're my child!" Jessie coolly responds, "I'm what became of your child."
They continue talking, of course, right up to the moment when Jessie gives Mama instructions on what to do after the gunshot rings out in the bedroom which Jessie will lock, to make sure no one can accuse her mother of committing the deed. And there is dark humor when Jessie suggests Mama go to a nearby couple's house for support and Mama shrugs, "No, I think I'll stay here. All they got is Sanka."
In a play bathed in expressions of depression and suicide, the trigger warnings inside your head may be deafening. But the NTF creative team does a creditable job with a play that confronts the quiet desperation of hopelessness from two different angles.
Through December 17 at None Too Fragile Theatre, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron, nonetoofragile.com, 330-962-5547.