Feb 26, 2018

[Theater] Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother (PETA) Review

It rather fascinates me how Eugene Domingo's theater work in recent years tends to be very different from her commercial movie work. Most associate her with her comedic movies like Kimmy Dora, but she's had some fascinating drama pieces as well. We had last seen her in PETA's Bona, and that role was serious but still light in tone when it needed to be. As is often the case with such works, the play  still had a largely sad tone to it that tempered the story.

This play, Masha Norman's 'night, Mother, is very serious on the whole despite some light banter woven into the dialog. It's a serious piece with the complicated concerns of mental health at its core. It's a show about suicide and that makes it quite dangerous if handled poorly. But the folks at PETA put a lot of thought into this piece and that made sure that they'd handle the subject as carefully as possible.

The result is quite powerful, very emotional, and still beautiful.

Synopsis: 'night, Mother is dramatic play written by Marsha Norman and the play won the 1983 Pulitzer Prie for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. The PETA production was directed by Melvin Lee with the text translated into Filipino by Ian Lomongo. The show ran from 2 February - 18 March at the PETA Theater Center.

The play opens with elderly Thelma (Sherry Lara) fussing in the kitchen and shouting out to her dauter, Jessie (Eugene Domingo) about things that they'll need to shop for. But Jessie is busy going through her own to-do list, one that also includes looking for her father's old gun that had been put away in storage somewhere. Thelma continues to focus on the things that they need to do for the house with Jessie busy with the gun.

After finding it and proceeding to clean the gun, Jessie goes on to share with her mother that hse intends to kill herself before the night is over. At first Thelma reacts by saying it's a bad joke and not one that she should make. But Jessie calmly replies that she's very serious about it and has prepared a number of lists documenting various things that she needs to remember in terms of manning the house. As Jessie proceeds to go over her reminders, Thelma tries to steer the conversation back to what might be driving all this and repeated efforts to get her to change her mind.

What I Liked: Both Eugene Domingo and Sherry Lara are AMAZING in this production and go through a crazy range of emotions in their respective roles. There are moments of total seriousness and moments of light humor when either Eugene or Sherry gets a quick quip in. And it's that sort of somewhat dark humor that feels quite authentically Filipino to me at times, even though the original story comes from America. And so major kudos to the writer who brought this story home.

So much goes right for this play. The set design alone was very striking, which is something one should always expect from PETA, I think. It was a huge set that transformed the theater into a very familar sort of old house that we've seen time and time again. But there were also more abstract elements that depicted the roof and ceiling and clearly showed signs of decay and damage - perhaps a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Then there was the fact that the team conducted a debrief session of course to discuss the play and mental health issues as a whole. Beyond a chance to meet the director and hear his thoughts on the play, they also made sure to include mental health professionals as expert resources to help provide more insight. So it was sort of like a free therapy session for everyone in the room, which really helps with pushing the core advocacy of this play in a productive manner.

What Could Have Been Better: The jokes, at least I felt, were appropriately timed and helped balance things out. But at the same time it's hard to throw those elements out there and not expect the audience to get distracted by things. So a lot of punchlines ended up triggering laughter that sort of broke the mood at times aand made it a little harder to appreciate where the story was going to next.

Music was minimal but a little weird at times as it was a lot of synthesized stuff. I understand why they made those choices and it's not like the production needed a full orchestra but I guess I wish some of the stuff didn't sound like it had come out of a Classic Doctor Who episode or somthing.

TL;DR: 'night, Mother is not an easy play to get through and it tackles a lot of different issues all at ones. The thought that went into the original production and the obvious love that went into translating the work did a great job of delivering its message in a way more in tune with local audiences. And thus the show gets a great 5 sweets that Thelma has stocked at the house out of a possible 5.

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