Pahl's Pen

Thoughts about Janus Theatre’s ‘Night, Mother
By Richard Pahl

'Night, Mother won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. It is a tour de force drama for two accomplished actresses. Kathy Bates appeared in the original Broadway production; Anne Bancroft and Sissy Spacek starred in the film version. Marsha Norman's play is a masterful example of how well written drama can effectively explore a particular subject and characters and their motivations and excite an audience's strongest emotions. Every serious theatregoer should experience this play at least once.

Janus Theatre provides an opportunity to do just that with this production which is running through October 27 at the Elgin Art Showcase as part of Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project. This month-long theatrical event offers three plays written and directed by women presented in rotating repertory using the theater-in-the-round techniques practiced by innovative stage director Margo Jones. The other plays in the series are Circle Mirror Transformation written by Annie Baker and directed by Marge Uhlarik-Boller, and Sunday on the Rocks by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Tara Morrison.

 'Night, Mother opens on a typical Saturday night in the modest Cates home. Grown daughter Jessie is completing her detailed checklist of household chores and preparing to do her widowed mother's nails. During the course of the play, their routine is disrupted by circumstances which force the two to be painfully honest with one another. One of them feels a great peace and resolve after agonizing over and reaching a major decision; the other is desperate to come up with something to say or do that will change that course.

Playwright Norman expertly illustrates their love, regrets, secrets, guilt, and disappointments, and creates a heightened reality that inexorably draws the audience into the argument. While it understandably took a few minutes for the actors to find their rhythm on opening night, once they did the many revelations and discussions and surprises led up to a powerful emotional climax which the audience will not soon forget.

This production features Leah Soderstrom, a recent graduate of Illinois State University, as Jessie in her debut performance with Janus. Maureen Morley as Thelma is also making her first appearance with Janus; she has been performing in Chicagoland for 35 years and earned a Jeff Award for her performance in “Of Grapes and Nuts.” Director Lori Holm, who has regularly acted on Janus stages, was a founding member of Troupe Strozzi and served as its director for three years.

 Kudos to Janus Theatre and company for their complete commitment in presenting this too seldom seen masterpiece of dramatic literature.

Richard Pahl is an actor, director, and writer, who has worked in professional, community, and college theater for close to 40 years. He has traveled the country plying his trade at various regional theaters. He was the creator of both Playwrights' Advocate and Page To Stage - incubators for new play production, where local and regional plays were commissioned and simply staged in front of live audiences, providing critical feedback for the playwrights. Pahl also served proudly on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission from 2007-2014.