Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Marsha Norman’s two-woman play ’night, Mother is a tragedy on an intimate, rather than epic, scale. Taking place over a single night, it looks at a widowed mother and her divorced daughter, who is epileptic, depressed, and at the end of her rope. Philadelphia audiences can catch Norman’s award-winner from March 4 to March 27, 2022, in a presentation by Isis Productions starring Kirsten Quinn and Renee Richman-Weisband. Phindie spoke to director Neill Hartley about what makes this such a fitting play for our times.
Phindie: What appeals to you about ’night, Mother?
Neill Hartley: ‘night, Mother is such a rich and challenging show. The relationship between the mother and daughter resonates on many levels with an audience.
Phindie: How so?
Neill Hartley: The women live in an average country house, filled with typical items, the kinds of things that you would see in many homes. They spend time dealing with mundane aspects of life such as shopping, cleaning, and gossiping about family and friends. The fact that so much of this is relatable yields a gentle humor. The audience has had these conversations and dealt with these simple things. Then something completely unexpected is introduced. It is both shocking and hard to believe. A tension builds as both the mother and the audience try to process this disturbing turn of events.
Phindie: What did you look for in cast members? How are they suited to Norman’s characters?
Neill Hartley: It has been really wonderful working with two people who are not only gifted performers, but also long-term friends. That connection really helped make the interactions on stage so believable.
Phindie: The play touches on dark issues. What sort of conversations did you have with the cast as you prepared for the production and during rehearsals?
Neill Hartley: The cast and I spent a good deal of time exploring the themes of the piece, which concern the value of life, and who or what gives that life value. We also looked at the ideas of identity, loneliness and choice. There is a deep love between mother and daughter. But oftentimes, as in life, they communicate at cross purposes, and what is important for each of them gets lost.
Phindie: What makes this a good time for a production of ’night, Mother?
Neill Hartley: In terms of the content, the need for understanding and compassion for those dealing with mental health issues is perhaps much more urgent than when the play was written. I don’t think there is a single person living today who has not dealt with the stress of living through the pandemic.
Phindie: Indeed. Thanks Neill.
[Isis Productions at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street] March 4-27, 2022; isisperforms.com.