On a typical Saturday evening, Jessie makes an Earth-shattering announcement to her mother: She intends to end her own life at the end of the evening. So begins Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “’night, Mother.” Kansas City Actors Theatre’s January production of this compelling show saw its first read-through featuring the cast and creative staff together in December.
The production features actors Cinnamon Schultz and Jan Rogge playing Jessie and her mother, Thelma, respectively, under the direction of Sidonie Garrett. The first rehearsal started with the creative team sharing their vision and designs with the rest of the cast and crew, including set, light, sound, and props. The main focus all the designers stressed was to highlight the “life” in this play. Thelma and Jessie have lived in this same house for decades, and Scenic Designer Ken Martin wants it to feel that way. “When you live in the same house for so long, things just accumulate,” says Martin. Considering the play deals with depression, Martin wants his design to play against this rather heavy topic and to show “livability”.
During the read-through, laughter was surprisingly common for a subject so serious. Norman has a magic power with words, and despite the gravity of the topic, she fills the play with humor and life. “Once you are seated, the story unfolds itself, grabs hold of you and does not want to let go,” describes Gary Heisserer, a member of KCAT’s company-guiding Artistic Committee. “It is a story of real, normal, everyday honest humans, with breakneck speed and complex emotions.”
After the unforgettable conclusion of the play was read, there was a moment of stillness. Feelings of surprise, wonder, hope and more could practically be felt hanging in the room. Some of that depth of emotion is possible because the characters already feel so familiar with each other, in no small part because of the history shared by actors Jan Rogge and Cinnamon Schultz. “We have worked together many times; we have even directed each other before,” says Schultz, who’s Jessie is caring and charming; even though the character can’t see for herself. When asked about her anticipation before this evening’s rehearsal, Schultz replies, “I try my very best not to anticipate anything; not to give myself pressure.” She says she finds the characters most interesting when they listen and respond to each other, rather than living trapped in their own private world.
Written in 1981, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, Marsha Norman’s classic piece is being brought onto KCAT’s stage in part for its relevancy. “’night, Mother” addresses the issues that were not discussed in 1980s,” says Sidonie Garrett, the production’s director. Though Garrett has directed with KCAT before, this production represents her first experience with Marsha Norman’s play, and she wants to give the audience an unforgettable experience. “I want this play to resonate with the audience,” says Garrett. “I like to give people emotional context, to have them feel something and want to say something. This will give them something to think about on the way home.”
Don’t miss Marsha Norman’s gripping ‘night, Mother starting January 8th and running through the 26th at the City Stage in Union Station. Visit www.kcactors.org or call the Central Ticket Office at (816) 235-6222 for more information and tickets.