By PAM HARBAUGH
Yes, it’s called show business, but sometimes we just gotta have the art. That’s what’s happening now at Surfside Playhouse where Marsha Norman’s devastating ” ‘night, Mother” is leaving audiences limp with emotion.
This 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning drama is played in real time and concerns Mama and her grown daughter, Jessie. Set in the kitchen and living room of Mama’s home, ” ‘night, Mother” begins with Jessie making sure an array of clocks are all on time. She takes out a pad of paper and looks at what appears to be a list. We immediately get a sense of something big about to happen.
Indeed. Jessie plans to take her own life this night. First, though, she wants everything in order — belongings handed away, candy bowls filled, even the suicide scene kept clean as possible. And, she wants to spend the last night with Mama to convince her that her decision is the only way for her.
After all, says Jessie, who is depressed by her own failed life and filled with hopelessness, whether she gets off the bus now or in 50 years makes no difference. She’ll still get to the same destination.
Mama, who has always turned a blind eye to problems in her own life and Jessie’s, at first doesn’t buy it. But as the evening’s encounter evolves, her despair grows. It is Mama’s agony that holds the audience in its grip.
The play’s naturalism style — real time, real place — seeks to heighten intimacy with the story and believability in its characters and plot. A proscenium stage like that at Surfside’s presents challenge to this style of theater. The aesthetic distance prevents us from achieving that deep intimacy and hence a deeper response.
Nevertheless, this is a powerful and moving production thanks to: a beautifully crafted realistic set (master carpenter David Young); Joan Dunn’s strong direction; Matt Davis thoughtful, artistic lighting design; Mike Mellen’s sensitive sound design; and, of course, stunning portrayals by Nadine Antaillia and Victoria Lee (Tori) Smith.
Ms. Antaillia shows us once again powerhouse acting talent. She brings a wide range of emotion to Mama and, as expected, really digs into the meat of the story. Enjoying the emotional feast as well is Ms. Smith who has her strongest moments in her character’s fierce confrontations with Mama.
Alas. The evening I went, there were only 11 cars in the parking lot. There was plenty of room to stretch out in the theater. An abundance of volunteers greeted the few patrons cheerily. This is not the way it should be. This theater should be packed.
This is an opportunity to see a Pulitzer Prize winning drama performed by two of the area’s best actresses. So…go! Don’t be afraid of the emotion or the power of this drama. It doesn’t happen that much here. You can take it.
SIDE O’ GRITS: ” ‘night, Mother” performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 28 at Surfside Playhouse, 301 Ramp Road, Cocoa Beach. $10. Call 321-783-3127 or visit www.surfsideplayers.com.