Wednesday, September 25, 2013

'Night Mother raises dramatic bar

by Jenni Morin

‘Night Mother, the 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning play by Marsha Norman, now showing at the Woodlawn Black Box Theatre through October 6, is worthy of the accolade. The Woodlawn’s production is heartwarming, heart-wrenching and devastatingly beautiful in execution.

The play opens with Jessie completing evening chores and straightening up the house before settling down to
Meredith Bell Alvarez (left) and Sherrie Shirky (Right)
give Mama a manicure. As she puts things in order, Jessie reveals she plans to commit suicide that evening. The rest of the play is packed with questions and emotions ranging from fury to fear as Jessie confesses her reasons and her plan.

At the helm of this nearly flawless production is Director Pat Wells. Kurt Wehner and Ben Grabill’s set design provides the perfect backdrop without any outstanding details or cluttered knickknacks to distract from the scene of this poignant drama. In the same vein is Chris Muenchow’s lighting design.

Norman brings an important issue to the stage and literally forces the discussion about suicide. While in Jessie’s case it seems to be everything and nothing that brings her to her conclusion, all too often today’s suicide victims are young, teenagers, bullied, threatened and outcast because they are have a different sexual orientation or were publicly shamed through social media. Then there are the cases that can only be speculated on involving mass shootings where the perpetrator also dies either by intention or unavoidable conflict with authorities. Even still, there are the quiet, unforeseen deaths that defy explanation or reason—this is Jessie’s suicide without the “what if” scenario her mother, Thelma, receives. Norman’s play fulfills the longing parents have to ask and answer those final questions before the act and offers a sort of solace with in its unavoidable ending.

From the opening lines to the last, both actresses play their roles dutifully and naturally. Sherrie Shirky as Thelma, or Mama, and Meredith Bell Alvarez as Jessie are a breathe of fresh air in the San Antonio theatre scene, especially in the straight drama genre. Shirky and Alvarez have raised the bar.

Woodlawn’s production is a must see for its production value, immense talent and thorough dedication to an important message. ‘Night Mother is a moving theatrical experience not to be missed.

‘Night Mother runs at the Woodlawn Black Box Theatre through October 6, 2013 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

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