On Centre Stage.
Review by Douglas Kennedy.
‘night, Mother by Marsha Norman. Actors Del Halpin, Amy McDonald. Directed by Barry Gibson. Javeenbah Theatre Company. Runs until February 11. Thurs-Sat 8pm with a Sunday February 5th matinee. Phone (07) 55960300. www.javeenbah.org.au
The last time I was at the Gold Coast’s Javeenbah Theatre – more than a dozen years ago – it was still recovering from the 2002 devil’s lick which gutted much of the building within 18 minutes.
Writing about the aftermath of the fire, I described the theatre as ‘plucky’ and predicted that the setback was little more than a hump in the road to new heights.
Returning to Javeenbah, for the gala opening of its first production for 2017, I was initially struck by the warmth and coziness of its snug foyer and even more charming auditorium.
The play was to be American playwright Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prizing winning two-hander ‘night, Mother.
There was, however, nothing cozy about the 100-minute play, which explored the suspenseful, sometimes chilling and occasionally surprisingly humorous relationship between a mother and daughter.
In short it was another example of those new heights I predicted years ago.
Mother Thelma Cates (Del Halpin) and daughter Jessie (Amy McDonald) live on a lonely property where, as the curtain goes up, they appear to be having yet another quiet night in.
The action is bathed in domestic normality until Jessie produces a gun and announces that she plans to kill herself within two hours.
Mother descends into emotional panic as she contemplates ringing for help, but the isolated and calmly detached Jessie has planned everything to the last detail.
In an almost happy-go-lucky, matter-of-fact way, Jessie disarms all Mother’s attempts to sway her with reason and pleading.
In the course of the play we watch and listen as mother and daughter explore their relationship and we learn of Jessie’s epilepsy, failed marriage and relationship with her delinquent son.
Ironically the Mother seems to be the sadder character as she struggles to dissuade her daughter from suicide, while Jessie has meticulously charted her final course down to leaving mum with a goodbye manicure.
Del Halpin, who is among the Coast’s marathon talents, rates Mother Thelma among her most challenging roles and she does it justice.
She has created a simple everyday widow and mother who – through the play – reveals layers of feeling and character, while never shying away from her vulnerability.
While Amy McDonald, who presents the weekend breakfast program at ABC Gold Coast 91.7, presents a complex character in a simple almost disarmingly able manner in her Javeebah debut.
The relationship between the women makes for a strange juxtaposition as we watch a large real-time clock staring into the audience and ticking away towards a fateful conclusion.
Veteran Coast theatrical stalwart Barry Gibson is in charge of direction and set design and construction –with help from other well-known theatre identities Norm Strambini and Craig Smith – and has done a sterling job.
He explained after the show how he saw props – including the clock, a picture of the mother and daughter and a phone – as other ‘characters’ in the play.
‘night, Mother is a meaty theatrical sandwich, which takes the audience on a journey through a hot-button issue in contemporary life, from the seemingly safe world of ordinary family doings to the edge of a painful dramatic narrative.
Note: the ‘night in the title of the play is Goodnight and is meant to be lower case.