Depression can be a tricky state; while it entails some sadness, the marker of depression goes beyond sadness. Indeed, it is a mental state that involves many other elements such as hopelessness, negativity, the inability to enjoy little things and much more. It is a mental illness rather than an emotion, and many people can suffer depression without it becoming obvious or apparent. Since this is an internal burden, it can be really hard to portray it on stage.
However, last night, in Dominion Stage’s production of ‘night Mother, directed by Jennifer Lyman, Connie Shabshab who plays Jessie, was able to do just that. She gave us a strong portrayal of a depressed woman resolute to end her life. With a strong performance and without too much sentimentality, Connie showed on stage the difference between sadness and depression.
‘night, Mother is a 1983 classic play by Marsha Norman that has won several accolades like the Pulitzer Prize and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. It is a heavy portrayal of a night when a 40-something woman, living with her mother, decides to end her life and have one last deep and truthful conversation with her mother. The play itself is honest, raw, a study of the many emotions associated with depression and the relationship between mother and daughter. Fraught with many dramatic moments, it is a moving portrayal of the intricacies that may arise even in loving relationships. Because the play takes place between two characters only, –a mother and a daughter– it relies heavily on its actors. The way the script was brought to life by Connie Shabshab as Jessie, the daughter, and Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Thelma, the mother, proves that the play is still very relevant and it allows an opportunity for remarkable acting.
This production by Dominion Stage is set in David M. Moretti’s barebones stage that is meant to portray a living room and a kitchen in an isolated house in the country, where there aren’t many places to escape or hide. All the action is on the shoulders of the two actresses, who carried it with power and intensity last night. Ian Claar’s lighting design is also straightforward and in the small, 75-seat Black Box Theatre on the Run; one feels so close to that intimate conversation between mother and daughter, all elements are heightened. It is indeed an effective setting for the unflinching look at a conversation revolving around suicide, an event more prevalent than we’d like to admit.
The performance by Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Thelma is a true gem. Even if you’ve seen Night, Mother already, Gayle’s take is one to behold. As Jessie’s mother, she goes from shocked to loving and caring mother, anger, sadness, reproach and even pleads with her daughter not to leave her.
The play’s plot is not one that can be spoiled, but the performances by the two women truly leave you at the edge of your seat and hanging on to every word. In this case, it brings out all the elements of theatre that I love, which is about having that shared experience of seeing a story come to life through acting right before your eyes. This production of ‘night mother will open your eyes to the importance of honesty in relationships.
Dominion Stage offered a thoughtful production of a difficult subject. After the play they offer talkbacks with the actresses, creating a safe space for a continued conversation. Their program is also packed with resources for those who might be struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, and information on epilepsy.
A lot of care went into the direction and performances of Dominion Stage’s moving production of ‘night, Mother, which remains as powerful as ever. Connie Shabshab and Gayle Nichols-Grimes deliver performances that should be seen.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
‘night, Mother plays through October 29, 2016, at Dominion Stage, performing at Theatre on the Run- 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.