The year 2017 was all about mental health, from people openly declaring their status to others grappling with the complexity and validity of it. That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise that the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) produced ‘night, Mother, a thought-provoking play about what happens before a suicide attempt.
PETA’s production of ‘night, Mother is a Filipino adaptation of Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. It follows Jessie, a divorced (in this case, annulled) woman suffering from epilepsy who reveals to her mother Thelma that she plans to kill herself by the end of the night. The rest of the play, performed in real time, shows Thelma desperately convincing her daughter that life is still worth living.
The story is jarring in that it shows the quiet dynamics of a planned suicide. Over the course of 90 minutes (no intermission), Jessie calmly explains to her mother why she is doing it, along with some reminders on how to maintain the house when she is gone. This is the story of a woman who is done with life but is not leaving her family in a vulnerable state.
Jessie is portrayed by Eugene Domingo, who returns to the stage after a five-year hiatus. The comedienne deftly transforms into the role, effectively portraying weariness and resolve through her words, her actions, and her face. She is complemented by veteran actress Sherry Lara, who goes through the gamut of emotions from disbelief to shock, desperation, and even acceptance. There is an authenticity between the two actresses that you silently root for them to reach a happy conclusion.
‘night, Mother was written by Marsha Norman, one of America’s most talented playwrights, in 1982 and opened on Broadway the following year. The play has won the Dramatists Guild’s Hull-Warriner Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1983. It earned four nominations at the 1983 Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Ian Lomongo’s adaptation and Melvin Lee’s direction successfully translates ‘night, Mother‘s essence into one that’s appropriate for the Filipino context. They allow you to enter Jessie’s head and see what can drive a woman to suicide. It’s also a new perspective to see a suicide attempt in a low-key manner, instead of the histrionics we see in media. It just goes to show that suicidal tendencies come in many forms, many which we don’t expect.
PETA’s ‘night, Mother is the company’s attempt to tell emotionally complex, unsettling, and provocative stories. And suicide is a conversation that we need to have as more people are suffering from depression, with even more not understanding the gravity of the issue. It’s a heavy watch but it’s also a story worth hearing.
PETA’s ‘night, Mother will be staged from February 2 to March 18, 2018 at the PETA Theater Center located at No. 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. For tickets and reservations, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 891-9999.