’NIGHT, MOTHER By Marsha Norman, directed by Alisa Palmer (Soulpepper). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To June 21. $34-$65, stu $28, rush $20 (stu $5). 416-866-8666. See Continuing. Rating: NNN
Imagine trying to talk yourdaughter out of committing suicide. This is actor Dawn Greenhalgh’s excruciating objective every time she plays Thelma to real-life daughter Megan Follows’s Jessie in Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ’Night, Mother.
For an intense 90 minutes without intermission, Jessie and Thelma reveal the tragedies of their lives. Thelma has endured a loveless marriage for years, and Jessie, chronically depressed and epileptic, has been abandoned by her husband and her troubled druggie son. Confined throughout the play to the house they now share, they surround themselves with knick-knacks and cupboards full of bulk candy.
Both actors plunge into their characters’ misery with honesty, but Greenhalgh takes longer to find her bearings than Follows. The casting choice pays off: you feel their real-life relationship unites them onstage at Thelma and Jessie’s every impasse. Particularly heartbreaking is the delivery of Follow’s final line, the play’s title (you have to really listen for it), uttered with quick and haunting finality.
Norman crafts the script carefully, slowly unwrapping plot details like a big present filled with smallers ones – although you don’t always want what you get. She even includes some humour to break the tension.
Director Alisa Palmer uses Ken MacDonald’s highly detailed kitchen and living room set (complete with a wall clock ticking away in real time) to its full potential.
Jessie and Thelma must confront each other in this intimate space, and they make great use of props like laundry, dishes and food. Although the pacing sometimes falters and particularly slackens through the middle, with Thelma’s last moments onstage Palmer creates an understated and poignant end.