Review by Adam Collier
Before I began reviewing theatre, I had a few stints as a teacher. To coax the kids into the best performance possible, I remember repeating this chestnut: You already have a perfect grade, all you have to do is keep it.
These words came to mind as I sat down to watch Soulpepper’s production of ‘Night, Mother. Its set and soundscape set a standard of near perfection from the get-go. I can’t remember what my expectations were before walking in the theatre, but after getting there they immediately shot-up.
Visually the set is like an oil painting study of a rural one-story house, lighted by soft yellows, at once crisp and yet seemingly without edges. Aurally, the set resonates with the same sense of calm; you hear crickets chirping and the gentle sigh of a car rushing by every so often.
Like many plays I love, ‘Night, Mother has a deceptively simple start. The action picks-up as a young woman named Jesse (Megan Follows) looks for her father’s gun. Her mother (Dawn Greenhalgh) tells her exactly where it is. Jesse finds the gun and cleans it. Simple interplays like these are the essence of ‘Night, Mother’. Ninety-percent of the dialogue revolves around exposition – very little of importance is actually decided onstage. But I craved every ounce of exposition, to explain the big decision that is driving all of Jesse’s behavior. All the details about Jesse’s life spool-out easily, over tasting hot cocoa and emptying the fridge.
The almost overwhelming calm of ‘Night, Mother came across to me most of the time as intense focus. But there was one time, when Jesse is changing the cover on the couch, when I began to lose confidence in Jesse. I suppose I was meant to be rooting for her not to commit suicide, I wasn’t. At that particular moment, the character’s action didn’t make sense to me and I became impatient. Perhaps that was the intent?
Other than this one moment of frustration though, I think Follows does a great job of maintaining a balance of focus and relaxation in her character. She makes Jesse an intriguing case.
‘Night, Mother has been lauded for strong production values, and I have to agree. Everything from the set, soundscape, acting and directing is great. Some of its high praise must be influenced by its incredibly emotional premise. I heard a lot of people sobbing (and even my dad, whom I went with got teary). If you see this play with your mother, my guess is that it’ll have twice the emotional impact. Or if you’ve ever known someone that’s committed suicide, the profound honesty of Marsha Norman’s writing might crumple your heart.
In any case, the portrait I saw of Jesse as a tragic hero, overwhelmed by forces she can’t control, and even more vulnerable when she is told the entirety of their influence on her life, was a deeply meaningful theatre experience.
– ‘Night, Mother is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill Street, Building 49)
– Run continues until June 28th, Monday to Saturday 8pm start; additional showing on Saturdays – 2 pm matinee
– Tickets range from $48 – $65 ($29 for students). More information is available through the box office 416-866-8666