Monday, October 15, 2018

Janus Theatre Co presents Marsha Norman's "'Night Mother"

All the pain of misunderstanding is summed up in a daughter's last words, "'Night Mother," the title of a Pulitzer prize-winning 1983 play by Marsha Norman. Produced by Janus Theatre Company, the show opened Friday night at the Elgin Art Showcase, the first of a series titled "Underplayed: The Margo Jones Theater Project."

In one eighty-minute scene, a lifetime of personal baggage is unpacked by a mother and daughter over cigarettes and hot cocoa. Leah Soderstrom plays Jesse Cates, an estranged wife who has given up on life, and Maureen Morley plays her anxious mother Thelma. After a tense conversation preoccupied with the minutiae of interpersonal communication, their mundane routine will come to an abrupt end.

With a set made of elements borrowed from somewhere in small town America, sometime in the twentieth century, the actors play to a 360 degree audience in a style practiced by Margo Jones, the regional theatre pioneer and namesake of this month-long series of plays written by women. Excellent direction by Lori Holm places the characters just a few feet from the audience, in Janus' trademark "up close" approach to live theatre.

Maureen Morley (left) and Leah Soderstrom in 'Night Mother.
Soderstrom plays a clear-thinking but nihilistic Jesse, easily switching from perfunctory home management recitations to moments of confession or frustration. Morley is brilliantly casted as her mother Thelma, whose unresolved issues are skillfully telegraphed through tone and body language.

The patter of dialog was rushed at times but the stage chemistry was excellent, and the intimacy of the seating layout revealed incredibly detailed acting within each character's personal space.
 
'Night Mother returns to the Elgin Art Showcase October 21st and 27th. Also playing this month are Circle Mirror Transformation and Sunday on the Rocks on select dates though November 4th. For tickets, times and more information go to www.janusplays.com