Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“’Night, Mother” – Ascension Theatre Co.
AIRDATE: JUNE 20, 2008
Times are tough. These are such dark days it even shows in play selections. This is the second drama this season that walks us through a woman’s suicide. The first was a wordless solo piece, the chilling “Request Programme ” (at ion theatre). And now we have the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Night, Mother.”
In Marsha Norman’s taut, intense two-hander, Jessie makes it clear from the get-go that though this seems like a normal Saturday night at home with Mom, the evening will end with a bang. She goes up to the attic to find Dad’s old gun. She arranges everything for her mother, and makes lists of where her beloved candies are, how to do the laundry, how to order in, since neither of them seems to leave the house. Gradually, the many sources of Jessie’s misery unfold, and we start to see the life of a loser for whom nothing has turned out right. Now, after asking her mother a lifetime of unanswered questions and emptying out a truckload of thoughts and feelings she’s harbored inside, she pretty much feels she’s said everything she has to say and has no reason to continue on.
The play is risky business for any theater company; the kind of dramatic intensity that can make people squirm, should make people squirm. It’s wonderful, gut-wrenching, heart-thumping theater. It won numerous awards when it opened in 1982. But it’s not for the faint of heart. And it’s gutsy beyond belief as the premiere production of a new theater company. Intrepid producer/writer/actor and now artistic director Charmen Jackson isn’t easily daunted, and she’s dedicated to making her new Ascension Theatre Company soar, presenting plays that foster a more intense understanding of the human spirit. She found a little, out-of-the-way space in Lemon Grove , put in about 40 seats, added a little lighting, a straightforward set and Voila`! A new theater is born. If her first production is any indication, Jackson has lofty standards and intentions, indeed.
She has directed with a sensitive hand, making the most of her living room/kitchen set, and evoking just the right Southern twang and emotional force from her highly competent cast. Jo Dempsey plays the no-nonsense Jessie with an earnest, matter-of-fact approach to her hopelessness. As her mother, Joan Westmoreland starts out selfish and indifferent, but becomes increasingly hysterical, as she tries frantically to get Jessie to change her mind. There’s a lifetime of mis -communication and missed opportunity here, an avalanche of withheld secrets and blunted sentiments. In a small theater, we’re trapped in this emotional powderkeg , and the ending, though foretold, still comes as a shock.
If you like your theater up-close, intimate and intense, have I got a show for you!
“’Night, Mother,” the premiere production of Ascension Theatre Company, runs through June 29 at Sews and Shows in Lemon Grove .
©2008 PAT LAUNER