5 review score This is one show that you shouldn't ignore. Though painful and disturbing, 'NIGHT, MOTHER presents a reality that we all need to face. By keeping rooted and hopeful, we can find more meaning in our lives. And who knows, we may end up saving other lives, too.
Some four years ago, I got a call from a friend in the middle of night. He has been diagnosed with HIV some few weeks back, and had been in isolation since then. We talked and chatted for a while. He thought about his family, his colleagues and his partner. He said he wouldn’t have the nerve to confess. I told him, he doesn’t have to if he wasn’t ready; that time will tell him when the perfect chance would be. “Oh, the perfect time,” he answered back. “The only perfect time that I can think of right now is to end it all.”
I laughed. Knowing the joker that he was, I knew he just had the wittiest answers. I told him, I’d help him through those tough times. That I have friends who are trained to handle situations such as his. “HIV is not a death sentence,” I told him.
I remember we stayed on the phone for more than an hour. We talked about other things, too. We reviewed his past, and my past, too. Our exes, our happiest moments. My friend tried to linger on, and I also did. We hanged up around an hour after midnight.
It was late afternoon the following day when he was found dead after being locked in his room. Drank four bottles of a solution that cleans silvers. Apparently, after our call, he called a couple of other friends until the wee hours of the morning. In the funeral, his sister told me that he suffered alone that night.
PETA’s ‘NIGHT, MOTHER reminded me of that final night with a friend. In the midst of silent sufferings, masked with fake smiles and bright filters in Social Media, this 1982 play by Marsha Norman is a lingering testament of how our empathy can go a long, long way.
One night, Jessie tells her mother Thelma that she is going to kill herself. It is 8 o’ clock and she only has an hour left before she points a gun to her temple and pulls the trigger. At first, Thelma was nonchalant. Her daughter Jessie has epilepsy, and has the tendency to compulsively say things she doesn’t really mean. But as the minutes wear on, Thelma soon notices how serious her daughter is with her plans. Jessica, who sees her life in the middle of a crossroad, sees nothing else but deliverance through death, and Thelma only has a few minutes left to talk her daughter to change her mind.
One of the last plays I’ve seen from Director Melvin Lee was in Virgin Labfest’s MAPAGBIRONG HAPLOS – a two-charactered one-act play involving an unconventional discourse between a father and his estranged daughter. In MAPAGBIRO, one notices Lee’s strength in orchestrating minutes of seemingly endless discourses with only two characters. This, too, is apparent in ‘NIGHT MOTHER. Here, Lee hypnotizes his audiences through Norman’s 90-minute running time, critiquing the depth of decisions and our eternal search for absolutions. In this Filipino adaptation by Ian Lomongo, Lee doesn’t depend on the theatrics, but rather thrives on the routinary and the common; inevitably establishing the reality behind self-destruction.
Benjamin Padero’s stage design comes with details, so familiar, that it almost feels like home. From an imposing mezzanine staircase in its center, to the minutest refrigerator magnet, Padero manifests the humdrum of the Filipino’s interior that depicts common lifestyle and local culture. Also, if you’d look closely, above the seemingly homey set for Thelma and Jessica are the curiously rotting ceilings, eaten away by moist and time. Beneath its familiarity is something quite metaphoric, mirroring the characters’ psyche and liquidity.
Eugene Domingo returns to the PETA stage after the tragi-comedy BONA, and she subtly submits to Jessica’s nuanced indifference. Yes, Jessica still loves Thelma, but her emotions towards her mother coincide with her choices. For her, clinging on to life will eventually destroy the both of them, and Domingo triumphantly manifests this internal choice. Though at some point, Domingo tends to be too suggestive through her lines, she manages to compensate so chillingly in the plot’s disturbing climax.
As Thelma, Sherry Lara gives a performance that will echo in the years to come. Her portrayal of this aging matriarch will be referenced as one of the best rendering we’ve seen on our local stage. As Thelma, Lara draws a picture of a humdrum mother, unexciting and mundane, yet so familiar and homely. Lara projects this silent energy that surpasses our understanding of the character, digging into the depths of personality. See how she knits, how she pours hot chocolate on a cup, and how she clicks on the TV’s remote control. Each small action brings life to the prop. What more can we expect for bigger scenes? Here, Lara creates a parent so familiar, we eventually reach out to her, unknowingly submitting ourselves to a bone-chilling end that she, too, has to face.
Despite the connections we see on stage, both Jessie and Thelma live in two separate worlds. Both are divided by a column of belief. Jessie has eventually created her own universe of sensibilities and reason, which made her sum up an unlikely decision. Thelma, on the other hand, lives in a world that most us know, concentrated on the sober and rational. This disconnect imposes a potential tragedy for one, and a far-fetched deliverance for the other.
This play by Norman mirrors my own history suicide. I was once a Thelma, too: unconcerned and apathetically casual to a Jessie on the other end of the line. At some point during the 90-minute play, I was glad Thelma soon heard the constant ringing and eventually paid more attention. Because I did not.
PETA’s adaptation of ‘NIGHT, MOTHER proved to be one of my most painful theater experiences, but it was liberating, too. Painful, because it reminded me that suicide is true, and that it is a choice that we can still un-choose, if only we’d know what to do and say at the right time. Liberating, because I saw how I can still redeem myself from the unceasing echo of conscience, regret and guilt. In a way, it showed me that life is still something to be treasured, a endearing gift with occasional tragedies and countless bonuses.
This is one show that you shouldn’t ignore. Though painful and disturbing, ‘NIGHT, MOTHER presents a reality that we all need to face. By keeping rooted and hopeful, we can find more meaning in our lives. And who knows, we may end up saving other lives, too.