Suicide, in a world filled with in-your-face reality television and no-holds barred true confessions, is still the last taboo — the word still spoken in whispers and shrouded in shame.
"'night, Mother," currently playing at the in Mattituck in collaboration with, is a gripping 90-minute production that explores the deep and complex relationship between an elderly woman, Thelma, played by Jere Jacob and her daughter Jessie, portrayed by Amie Sponza — who tells her mother calmly and resolutely as the show opens that she is going to kill herself that night.
Just as soon as she gives her mother a manicure.
What follows is a brillant performance by both Jacob and Spoza, who initially debuted their production of "'night, Mother" in January at the in Greenport.
"'night, Mother," written by Marsha Norman, was originally produced by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1982. The show won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and opened on Broadway in 1983 starring Kathy Bates, receiving four Tony nominations; a Broadway revival in 2004 featured Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn. A 1986 film version starred Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft.
Sponza's Jessie is a woman who has had enough — enough of living with epilepsy, enough of an ex-husband who left her heartbroken, enough of missing her deceased father, enough of a son who has stolen her rings and her trust, enough of a seemingly endless string of days that are, ultimately, identical in their seeming futility and utter sameness.
Powerless to change the course of her broken future and reclaim the self she feels she's lost along the way, Jessie has found the one thing that can put an end to the carousel of broken dreams -- shooting herself cleanly with her father's handgun, which she finds in the attic.
Methodically crossing to-do items off lists, filling candy dishes and stacking towels, explaining to her mother how to operate the washing machine and who to call if power is lost, Sponza's Jessie is steely in her determination to prepare her mother for life without her, and complete her mission.
Thelma is brought vividly to life by Jacob as she runs the gamut of emotions experienced by a mother faced with the unthinkable. At first, Thelma believes her daughter can be swayed — and she does everything, offers up anything, anything at all, desperate to save her daughter's life.
When told Jessie can't bear the bad news found on the radio and television, Thelma offers to get rid of the TV. Her daughter asks what her mother would do all day, without television.
"Sing," Thelma offers. "I'd sing 'til morning to keep you alive, Jessie."
The characters become a juxtaposition between life and death — Jessie, still youthful but already cold and "gone," as her mother realizes brokenly, and Thelma, elderly and frail, shuffling about the small world of her country home in house slippers — but still roaringly alive.
During the course of their fateful Saturday evening, mother and daughter rip down the walls of silence that have kept truths hidden and despair alive. As the horror mounts and Thelma realizes nothing can change her daughter's mind, Jacob seems to visibly shrink onstage, folding into herself as she begs her daughter not to go.
"I was here with you all the time," she said. "How could I know you were so alone?"
With flawless direction by Lenore DeKoven and set construction by Jim Pearsal, "'night, Mother" is produced by Deanna Andes.
The show is a rare treasure — the staging of a true American drama that relies not on elaborate dance numbers found in Broadway-style musicals but instead, on finely honed acting skils, a razor-sharp script and spot-on timing to pack one of the most potent emotional punches a theatregoer could ever hope to find in any theater, anywhere. It's perhaps some of the most powerful acting ever found on a North Fork stage— don't miss it.
"'night, Mother" will be performed Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and next Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15; to purchase tickets, click here.