Tatler Review: Night, Mother
Suicide—it’s a topic that’s often scraped under the rug, tiptoed around, or avoided completely—but in Melvin Lee’s adaptation of the Pulitzer-prize winning Night, Mother, it takes centre stage. Upon entering the theatre, you are greeted by a hyper-realistic set design, shaped in the form of a stereotypical Filipino household seemingly cut in half. It’s as if the audience were mere neighbours peeping into the lives of the two lead characters: Thelma and Jessie.
Spanning an hour and 30 minutes, the play is a real-time depiction of Thelma (Sherry Lara) and Jessie (Eugene Domingo) as they go about what might be their last evening together. Jessie admits to her mother that she is planning to take her own life—but before she does, she carefully explains and delegates household chores to her mother, making sure she will be alright even after she commits the deed.
As the conversation unfolds, we learn about the dynamic between the two. We find out that Jessie suffers from epilepsy, which leaves her with ceremonious “attacks” or bouts of uncontrollable seizures. We learn about their secrets and the deep-seated anger they have for each other. Sooner or later, the hour draws to a close and as Thelma exhausts all possible small talk to distract her daughter, she is faced with the reality of Jessie’s plan. Will she do it? Or will Thelma sway Jessie to live another day?
Creating The Filipino Household
The set design perfectly encapsulates a run-of-the-mill Filipino home. With wooden furniture, a portrait of Jesus Christ above a home altar, messy stacks of medicine bottles on a kitchen cupboard, a working sink and stove —the audience is welcomed into the enthralling narrative seamlessly.
Ian Lomongo’s adapation of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer-winning script is an excellent practice in translation. Formerly set in America, PETA’s Night, Mother brings the story home in the landscape of Filipino culture, familial politics in tow.
Lomongo inserts some humour without deviating from the seriousness of the topic. Through his dialogue, Lara and Domingo’s back and forth proves philosophical without the heaviness didacticism, touching without pandering, and serious without having to be alienating.
The Art of Theatre
Melvin Lee’s direction leads the two characters from friendly banter to exhausting rhetoric. One would think that 90 minutes of pure and real time drama would be dreary, but I was constantly at the edge of my seat. No word was out of place, no gesture without reason.
Lara and Domingo portray two characters, both unstable in their own right, with awe-inducing excellence. Sherry Lara portrays the desperate Thelma with great aplomb and meticulous control of the character’s shifting moods and temperament. But not to be outdone is Eugene Domingo, who we all know from her blockbuster films and comedic persona. The actress returns to the stage after a five-year hiatus in theatre and her performance as Jessie is extraordinary and chilling (in a good way), as her calm composure creates an eerie feeling in the viewer. Her portrayal of a "depressed" person begs the question: can someone so logical be so sick in the mind? and vice versa. Night, Mother opens many questions and brings to the fore unsettling conflicts we so often shrug away.
The Night Beckons
Night, Mother as a whole aspires to shake what is fixed and unsettle the dirt around it. It asks audiences difficult questions about psychology, family, and the very essence of humanity. Here, we are forced to recalibrate our thoughts on living and the elusiveness of time and intimacy; the battle between hopelessness and desire.
The Philippine Educational Theatre Association has always prided itself in its socio-political plays. Often a go-to for elaborate and entertaining musicals, Night, Mother seems like an apt deviation and closing fit to the theatre company's golden year celebration.
Bringing what is taboo to the fore, audiences get a thought-provoking play that does not take the theatre medium for granted. Your 90 minutes are spent watching a riveting tête-à-tête, and performances like no other.
Night, Mother presents Thelma and Jessie in conversation but alternatively, it can be read as an irrefutable monolog. As Thelma addresses Jessie’s concerns and rationalisations, in the end they are both simply talking to themselves. Both characters sadly display an inevitable blindness to each other’s experience and gripping loneliness.
Ultimately, from the very beginning of the play, they were both already all alone. A powerhouse cast and production, Night, Mother is not one you should miss. Make sure you bring an open mind and heart when you see the play as it will take you on an emotional spin -- one that rivals a torturous heartache.
PETA’s ‘Night, Mother runs from February 2 to March 18, 2018 at the PETA Theater Center, located at No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. For more information contact PETA Marketing and PR Office at 0927-6035913 or Ticket World at 891-9999 www.ticketworld.com.ph, www.petatheater.com/nightmother.