Confronting Life’s Agonies in Throughline’s “‘Night Mother”

By Casey Cunningham

How do you save a person who doesn’t want to be saved?

How do you convince a person that life is worth living when life has never once been kind?

Is it nobler, (to paraphrase some play by some British guy that I think was the inspiration for The Lion King) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to die, to sleep. […] and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?

Reader, be warned, before you see ‘Night Mother (and you should) be aware that this is not an “enjoyable” show. It is a painful, honest and incredibly powerful one.

So, safety first. If you or anybody you love has been affected by suicide or suicidal ideations, this show will be very painful. It will hurt, I promise you.  It will make you think. I hope. You will not leave this show laughing, and if you do, I urge you to seek counseling.

‘Night Mother is a play about suicide, about family, about seeking comfort where it can’t be found. The title works in several ways, note the apostrophe before the word night. ‘Night as an informal contraction of goodnight. So when written down the title seems cute or quaint. But try saying “Night Mother” out loud in the same tone you would a title of a movie. It has the sound of a caped vigilante darting over rooftops to fight crime. This is a brilliant title, and (to me) represents the duality of parenting. There is the sweetness of putting a child to bed for the night, but what does it mean to be a parent during the midnight of your child’s life? How do you save your children from the darkest parts of life?  Can you?

There were several times in this show where I cried, where I had to look away from the stage. I had to turn my head away so as to not be too drawn in to the pain, tragedy, and unflinchingly honest portrayal of what it means to give up. I was afraid for the characters, afraid for myself, and what I would have to write in this review. I have lost a family member to suicide, I have lost a childhood role-model to suicide. I have struggled with depression.

I tell you this so that you know that even though I am a friend of the director, and love Throughline as a company; If I thought that this play in ANY WAY glorified suicide, this review would have started with “HEY, DON’T GO SEE ‘NIGHT MOTHER, THIS PLAY SHOULD  NEVER BE  SEEN BY ANYONE EVER.”

I am happy(?) to say that it does not glorify suicide. Nor does it demonize it. It is simply honest about how complicated and delicate life can be. The character that wants to end her life is a logical, loving, caregiver. She is not making this choice to get revenge on those who hurt her, she just doesn’t want to go on living. The one who wants to save her tries every tactic in the book, affection, deception, cooking, coddling, screaming, commanding, begging, pleading; all to no avail. The choice was already made.

Samantha A. Camp and Bri Brownfield

The scariest most painful thing about this show is its reality. The things on stage have happened to real people. Real people take their own lives and leave real people behind. This show is a mix of all the things we could have said, did say, wanted to say, wished we hadn’t said or done or faked or lied or been honest about. It is the that actually happened as well as the argument you spend the rest of your life having in your head and heart with the words they left behind in a farewell letter.

It is a voyeuristic look into the darkest night in a parent’s life.

This voyeurism was reinforced by Director Sarah McPartland’s choice of venue for this production. Aftershock Theater’s general dilapidation compounded with the intimate seating made me feel as though I was somewhere I didn’t belong in the best way possible. Who could live in a place like this for long without wanting to leave? Who could be trapped here every day with only illness and housework to look forward to and not be tempted to check out early.

What is the point where a house goes from being a fixer-upper opportunity to being better-off demolished? What about me? Is there a point where I’m too broken down to really be fixable? Is it even worth trying?

Bri Brownfield as Jessie and Samantha A. Camp as Thelma

This is a show that is surreal in its reality. The daughter, Jessie (Briauna Brownfield) speaks in the same tone about refrigerator repair and candied apples as she does about killing herself. It’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. The mother, Thelma (Samantha A. Camp),  in contrast burns wildly through almost every emotion on the spectrum.

The only dissonance for me at first was the ages of the actresses, both seemed to be about half the age of their characters, but the skill of these two actresses made that completely inconsequential by the end because the actors were gone, and hope was gone, and all that was left was one heartbroken woman. This play is a slow burn, and may seem almost boring at first, but it is lulling you into a false sense of security. Also I urge you to look up the convention of Chekov’s gun,before seeing this show.

This is not a show for children, at all. This is not a show for people who have lost their children. If you are easily depressed or have struggled with suicidal ideations do not see the show alone. Because the message of the show is this. No matter how much it feels like it, you are not alone. If you think there is nothing for you in this world, you are wrong. If you think that suicide is the result of weakness, you are wrong. If you think there is nothing you can do to save a person you love you are wrong.

There is always something we can do to show the people we love that life is worth living.So start doing those things now. Every day.

Theater is a safe place to learn real lessons about life.

I urge you to do your best to see this show, learn the lessons it has to teach, and never waste another opportunity to show someone they are loved.

‘Night Mother runs one more weekend at Aftershock Theater in Lawrenceville. 8 pm on Thursday the 25th,  Friday the 26th, and Saturday the 27th, along with a 2pm matinee on Saturday. For tickets, visit their site. 

Photography Credit: Rick Moore

Categories: Archived Reviews

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