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NIGHT, MOTHER (article first published : 2008-08-2; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

Fett Diva Productions is presenting a limited festival of two classics of western theatre at the Square Space Theatre on the UKZN campus. These are Marsha Norman’s Night, Mother and Harold Pinter’s The Lover (see review on these pages), described as two exceptional examples of the art of the stage, filled with intensity, intrigue, and incisive human commentary.

Fett Diva is made up of two of Durban’s finest talents - actresses Josette Eales and Janna Ramos Violante – who have delighted youngsters with their two-hander children’s theatre pieces as well as adult audiences as individual performers in a wide range of productions. This short festival is to be commended and I sincerely hope they will continue to present them.

Now a Professor of Drama at Julliard, playwright Marsha Norman was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to strict fundamentalist parents who wouldn’t let her play with other children. ’Night, Mother is considered her best-known work and it was eventually made into a film The play won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for its original production at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directed by Tom Moore and starring Kathy Bates as Jessie and Anne Pitoniak as Mama. This production eventually made its way to Broadway and received four Tony Award nominations.

No doubt Marsha Norman drew upon the isolation of her childhood when finding the character of Jessie, a divorced overweight epileptic woman with a son who has turned to petty crime. Resentful of her brother and his wife, she lives in a stifling environment with her mother but is afraid to go outside. She feels her life is out of her control and she will only find peace and quiet in ending it.

In the role of Jessie, there’s no way on earth that Janna Ramos Violante could be considered overweight although she tries to hide her trim figure in a shapeless top. This does not detract from a blazingly sincere performance opposite Tamar Meskin who provides just the right energy in the difficult role of her mother, Thelma. While Jessie is clear-headed, fully prepared and calmly nonchalant about the fact that she intends committing suicide that evening, Thelma is required to run the gamut of emotions. We first see her as a self-indulgent chatterbox with a sweet tooth before she embarks on a painful journey of discovery – all the while frantically trying to employ delaying tactics to stop her daughter from carrying out her intentions. In the end she accepts defeat and has to admit to herself that she never saw the tragedy coming. Jessie’s careful plans to help her mother overcome the period after she dies – even telling her what to say to relations and friends - is in itself a strong act of love.

Both actresses, under the compassionate direction of Tanya van der Walt, handle this script in all its many moods. There is much humour alongside the pathos and Marsha Norman’s musical background is no doubt behind the fact that the play flows like a well-orchestrated symphony. Its rhythm ripples, flares and explodes, is skittish, erratic and prickly - but all the while, remains eloquently heart-rending.

Along with its companion piece, The Lover, 'Night, Mother should not be missed and it should be compulsive viewing for all UKZN Drama students. Stephen Woodroffe’s set works equally well with this production as with The Lover.

'Night, Mother can be seen at the Square Space Theatre, UKZN from July 31 to August 10 at 19h30 on August 2, 5, 7 and 9. Tickets R50 (R40 students, scholars, pensioners or for block bookings over 10). For bookings or any further information, contact Claudette Wagner on 031 260 3133 or Josette on 083 672 7732 or Janna on 078 331 6746 (after hours).

NB: Due to the explicit nature of these plays, they are not recommended for children under the age of 16. - Caroline Smart




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