Impact5 of ‘night, Mother’ remains well after the play is over

October 8, 2014

“The theme of suicide is not new to the world of drama…”

Nor is suicide new to any of us who live in this world. I would go so far to say that it might effect us more deeply than even sexual assault or murder. I think it is difficult to shake our despair and depression when someone we commits suicide or even attempts it because it is so hard to understand why someone could sink so low as to want to halt his or her own living; own life.

When one of my colleagues, a tarot reader, committed suicide, I felt it was important to write about her life in the Gulf Islands Driftwood on Salt Spring Island. I wanted to underline that her life had been important and that she had contributed to the community in extremely positive ways. I wanted to distract people from getting stuck on focusing on the nature of her death.

Because I did this public thing, I somehow seemed to be thought of as an expert on the topic. I was asked to do two book reviews and to report on the play in the piece that follows here.

I know that at least one person involved in this play had experienced the suicide of someone close to her. I can only hope being involved in the play was cathartic for her. I think doing the writing that I was asked to do around suicide probably, in end, helped me recover from not only the death of my colleague but also the attempted suicide of a relative.

I would have preferred to run away from dealing with it in this way because watching a play, reading two books and writing about the topic meant I had to spend several hours with it.

Yet, recently I have remembered how wonderfully written Other Side of the Mountainby David Guterson is when I was discussing it with more than one friend during my recent house sit in Olympia, Washington which is Guterson’s home state.

It was also in Olympia where I attended a talk by a psychologist about depression at the Olympia public library. I had been feeling down for a couple of days and being with other people who encouraged the speaker to talk in a wide ranging way about depression help lift me out of depression. Being with other people, instead of isolating myself, did the trick.

No doubt the library personnel decided to schedule the event at least partly because of Robin Williams’ suicide. Inadvertently, then, the acting star’s death has helped many go on happily with their lives. Although this was not his intent, I am sure if his spirit is watching, he would be filled with joy about this spin off effect.

So communicating in whatever way you can, whether through the written word, being part of a play or talking with other people with an expert present (or not) seem to be some simple solutions to moving back in to the light of life when someone we love takes his or hers.

The following is my play review:

Gulf Islands Driftwood
March 6, 2012
Impact of ‘night, Mother’ remains well after the play is over
by Tanya Lester

While the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘night, Mother performed at Mahon Hall features only two actors– Christina Penhale and Victoria Mihalyl — it’s as if a third one, namely suicide, is hovering somewhere off-stage.

The theme of suicide is not new to the world of drama. It is one that has been explored in plays going back centuries to when William Shakespear penned Romeo and Juliet.

With direction by Nadine Wright, both Penhale and Mihalyl are applauded for their courage and stamina in performing this piece. Dying by one’s own hand is dealt with intensely head-on, mostly through the two characters, dialogue.

Penhale, who plays Jessie Cates, exudes a quiet dignity, with what seems to be under-acting. It works well. One imagines someone whose feelings are numbed as she prepartes to do what most would classify as unthinkable. As an actress, she finds the difficult place of balance in acting the piece.

As the play unfolds, the audience discovers it is not one but many things that has led her to a place in her life where she no longer wants to live it. A dysfunctional family, alienation from important relationships and illness all contribute to her decision.

Playing Thelma Cates, Jessie’s mother, Mihalyl has a trickier role to interpret. How does on theatrically react to the impending death of someone to whom her character has given life?

It takes awhile for this talented performer, who is Flying Dreams Aerial Arts Productions’ artistic director, to finally release the character’s emotions. This happens in a scene during which she loudly bangs the pots that she has removed from the cupboard. Ultimately, her uncontrolled crying is excruciatingly painful to witness. She makes there moments in the play seem very realistic.

Set in a living room and kitchen of a house isolated in a rural area, the play is not void of humour. The audience is introduced to Thelma’s candy addiction right from the start, for example. On opening night, clever and well-timed dialogue was met with laughter from the audience.

This faded out completely as the one-act play continued and it became more and more apparent that one way or another the ending would probably not be a pleasant one.

It seemed an uncomfortable silence took hold of the audience in the end.

Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that great art has to leave those who experience it with sugar-coated happiness. As a way to help those in attendance process the piece, though, it might have been helpful to have a discussion after the performance ended.

Still, many believe good artistic quality is measured by whether a form of creativity stays with the viewer for the next day, or longer, after it was experienced. It did for this reviewer.

Reflecting on the performance, it seemed I understood better something we hesitate to talk about. I worked through my emotions and felt lighter as a result.

Other contemporary pieces of literature that could complement ‘night, Motherare two novels. One titled Other Side of the Mountain by David Guterson, concerns an elderly man who considers suicide after he is diagnosed with cancer. Another book is Lilian Nattel’s Web of Angels, in which a woman’s life unravels after a young family friend kills herself…

To read the earliest posts in this blog, please go to
Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter.Google.
Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader
by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name– to read the first pages and buy it — as
Tanya Lester’s other books are Dreams & Tricksters, Women Rights/Writes and Friends I Never Knew.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s