Home Made Theater’s “‘night, Mother”: On Living and Dying

SARATOGA SPRINGS — An ordinary Saturday night at home brings an unexpected twist. A mother-daughter relationship is fractured as truths come to the surface after lying dormant for years. Questions on what it means to live and die lead to few answers. This is “‘night, Mother” by Marsha Norman, currently playing at Home Made Theater.

Terri Storti and Antoinette Fasino

The play begins innocently enough: to their audience, a mother and daughter are following a routine Saturday evening. Jessie, the daughter, asks her mother (“Mama”) if she is willing to part with a few beach towels. Jessie adds a garbage bag to her laundry hamper menagerie before asking Mama where her late father’s gun is kept. Jessie goes on a search, and when Mama starts asking questions, Jessie proceeds to calmly let her mother know that tonight, she will be taking her own life.

This bomb goes off in the theater and sits as a rock in your stomach for the remainder of Jessie and Mama’s story. The clarity in Jessie’s (played by Antoinette Fasino) decision is haunting. Fasino’s eyes light up in moments when Jessie is describing what death will be like dark and dead quiet. The subtleties in Fasino’s various expressions during her conversation with Mama bring Jessie, ironically, to life. As the night grows darker, Jessie unravels the reasons for her suicide and reveals them to Mama.

Antoinette Fasino and Terri Storti

Terri Storti, playing Mama in this production, has stepped into her role with both feet. She fires questions at Jessie at a rapid pace, and even the occasional line stumble doesn’t throw her off-course. The audience watches Storti arrive at each stage of grief while she pleads with her daughter to stay. Fasino and Storti rarely leave the stage during the 85-minute one-act and, despite this, manage to deliver a charged and emotional ensemble performance.

“‘night, Mother” opened on Broadway in 1983 and won the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the same year. The play has also seen a national tour and was revived on Broadway in 2004. Its themes of suicide and relationships remain relevant in 2023. Home Made Theater has taken a risk with this production; historically, two-person shows and community theater aren’t a winning combination for box office sales. Furthermore, selecting a drama with heavy and often taboo subjects can jeopardize audiences who might prefer a light-hearted comedy. But plays like “‘night, Mother” demand to be done. With its lyrical dialogue and heart-achingly powerful look at life and the end of it, this play is worth taking a risk at the box office. Home Made Theater should be commended for doing so.

Aside from selecting a strong submission, director Jonathan Hefter carries out the play’s themes nicely. The tempo achieved by Hefter and the actors is akin to the flow of ocean waves: a slow build-up leading to a thunderous crash and then returning to calm, if only for a moment. In addition to pacing, Hefter skillfully invites the audience into Mama’s home through smaller, specific details. These details include a set (designed by William E. Fritz and complemented by Properties Designer Maura Pickett) that feels lived-in and lighting (designed by Matt Kopans) that ominously foreshadows the evening to come. Another standout detail in Hefter’s vision is the ever-present ticking of the clock, like an inevitable countdown, and the sound of the stove burner crackling to life. Barry Streifert’s sound design creates a tangible and comfortable mood in Mama’s home. 

Above all, Home Made Theater’s production of “‘night, Mother” reminds all who encounter it of the duality of life. Life is funny and life is sad, and oftentimes, both all at once.

“‘night, Mother” runs now through April 2, 2023. Tickets and more information can be found at www.homemadetheater.org

A final important note: If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Help is available 24/7.

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