'NIGHT mother by Marsha Norman, directed by Jordan Merkur, with Jayne Eastwood and Alison Smiley. Presented by Artword Theatre and Eclectic Theatre at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to December 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $24-$28, stu/srs $18, Sunday $14. 416-366-7723.
marsha norman's 1983 pulitzer Prize-winning play, 'Night Mother, should retire already.The two-hankie two-hander about a daughter who's determined to kill herself but wants to spend a last night with her ma confronts issues like love, death, illness and family.
These are big themes. Award-worthy themes. But Norman weaves them into her script in an annoyingly manipulative way, and no production can mask that.
Directed by Jordan Merkur, Eclectic Theatre's recent Fringe version of the play returns on a larger stage with a fancier set, resulting in a less claustrophobic show.
The performances have deepened since the Fringe. It takes Alison Smiley a while to find her footing as Jessie, a woman who's had a disappointing life and doesn't expect it to get better. Her initial voice breaks feel phony, but by the end, all grim resolution, she's convincing and dignified, if predictable.
Jayne Eastwood's stuck with the more difficult role. Her Thelma must move from disbelief to childish pleading to a final acceptance of her daughter's wishes, and Eastwood makes you see the smart survivor beneath the simple country exterior.
One note: multiple Dora winner John Gzowski's on board as music and sound designer. For what? Anyone could have chosen those pre-show country tunes, and the spooky sound effects at the end are, like much of the show, unearned.