“’night, Mother” is a critically acclaimed play about a difficult topic: a person contemplating suicide.
It’s a subject that needs to be openly discussed, said Christopher Rose, who is directing Centre Stage’s production of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.
“Putting it in front of the community is good because mental health is something we don’t speak about as much as we should,” Rose said.
Centre Stage will stream “’night, Mother” on Oct. 16-17. The filmed performance, featuring veteran Upstate actresses Lisa Sain Odom and Phyllis Henderson, will be available anytime on those days via Centre Stage’s website.
The play was originally scheduled to be staged live in March as a part of Centre Stage’s Fringe Series, but the coronavirus pandemic interrupted those plans. The theater decided instead to film the performance for streaming.
Upstate filmmaker Collins White captured Rose’s staging using three cameras during two run-throughs of the play in late August.
“He did a great job,” Rose said. “It’s really a great film production.”
Norman’s 1982 drama centers on two ordinary women living in the country: Thelma, who is a widow, and her daughter, Jessie.
Jessie has had a troubled life: Her divorce has just been finalized, she suffers from epilepsy, her son is a petty thief, her last job didn’t go as expected, and she’s moved in with her mother.
Just as she’s beginning to realize some stability, however, Jessie calmly informs her mother that she intends to kill herself — that very night.
Thelma is horrified. She spends the next 90 minutes trying to persuade Jessie to change her mind.
“People don’t really kill themselves unless they’re deranged,” Thelma says.
But Jessie is not deranged or despairing; actually, she has never felt better in her life.
“She makes a choice to take control of her life,” Rose said. “It can be difficult to see, but Jessie is the hero.”
The play traverses a broad emotional landscape of fear, anger and even unexpected humor, Rose said.
“It’s a gamut of human emotion in the course of this conversation,” he said. “The play shows two very different worldviews — one based on hope and one based on action. The play is really a study of how anything taken too far can be perilous.”
Norman, the playwright, treats her characters with sympathy, never passing judgement.
“People who take their lives are sometimes called selfish or weak, but Norman created the play in a way that you don’t judge either of her characters,” Rose said. “They just find themselves in a difficult situation.”
Rose has wanted to direct the play since first encountering it as a student in a world drama class 22 years ago.
“This play is Shakespearean in its depth of emotion,” Rose said.
Strict COVID-era protocols were observed during rehearsals and the filming of the play, Rose said.
Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow Paul on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
What: “’night, Mother,” by Marsha Norman
When: Streaming Oct. 16-17, anytime
Where: Access the streamed performance at centrestage.org
Info: 864-233-6733 or centrestage.org