Opening night at Holden Street Theatres saw two consummate actors, Martha Lott and Kathryn Fisher triumph in a play which asks almost as much from the audience as it does the actors.
Mother, Thelma and daughter, Jessie engage in a battle where the stakes are high. Jessie has announced, in a very matter of fact way, that she will kill herself in an hour’s time. Thelma does all she can to persuade her against this plan. During the ensuing conversation both mother and daughter speak more frankly and freely than probably ever before.
Martha Lott manages to create a character seriously depressed yet compelling. Sloping across the stage, round-shouldered, dressed in ill-fitting clothes, she commands our full attention. There are glimpses of a lighter side, but only glimpses. She is a woman who has no desire to continue living.
Kathryn Fisher as her widowed mother flails and struggles, like a moth trapped in a jar, in her efforts to persuade Jessie to change her mind. She ranges from disbelief, anger, accusations, self-blame, sympathy, despair, but never acceptance.
Playwright Marsha Norman won awards for this play and deservedly so, for it takes great skill to take the detritus of one life and the emptiness of the other to create an empathy for both these women, together with the tension which builds. over the evening.
Peter Goers, experienced theatre man and director is to be given credit for pacing the play, allowing both Martha Lott and Kathryn Fisher to play to their strengths. The set, designed by Gary Anderson, is a warm and accurate re-creation of a 1980s simple home, every piece, such as the paintings on the wall and the crochet cover on the sofa giving a picture of stultifying domesticity.
The striking clock reminds us that the hour when Jessie will retire to her room with the old pistol is approaching. As she exits, Thelma calls, screams and implores. We wait to hear if the silence will be broken by a gun shot – exquisite timing.
In the end there is much to ponder. How many people live in ‘quiet desperation’. How many lonely people fill their days with trivia? How many have no meaningful relationship with another human being? How many hide their depression behind a shield? How many try to reach out but do not find the right words?
‘night Mother demands excellence to succeed, and last night excellence was there in full display.