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‘Night, Mother brings dramatic force to Theatre Alliance

by Mark Burger

’Night, Mother brings dramatic force to Theatre Alliance

After the lighthearted holiday cheer of Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash, Theatre Alliance of Winston- Salem takes a direct turn into the heart of

drama with its next mainstage production: Marsha Norman’s acclaimed twocharacter drama ‘Night, Mother, which opens Friday at the Theatre Alliance stage (1047 Northwest Blvd., Winston- Salem).

The play explores the relationship between Jessie and her mother Thelma. During one evening, Jessie nonchalantly tells Mama that she’ll be dead the next morning because she plans to commit suicide.

But this is no twisted joke, as Mama discovers to her horror. Jessie has mapped her death out down to the last detail, and as she expresses her reasons for her decision, both mother and daughter are forced to re-examine their lives and their relationship. In doing so, old wounds are re-opened and old grudges brought to the fore. It’s makeor-break, life-or-death time, and the clock is ticking.

Theatre Alliance’s production stars Cheri Van Loon as Jessie and Beverly Culbreath as Mama, and is directed by Jamie Lawson, who is also Theatre Alliance’s artistic director.

“Cheri and Beverly bring a great deal of theatrical experience to these extremely challenging roles,” says Lawson. “There was heavy competition for these two roles, as they are very well-written characters… it was nice to have lots of strong actresses at the auditions from which to choose.”

And, given that the characters of Jessie and Mama are onstage for the entire duration of the play (which runs over two hours), these tour-de-force roles require both physical and emotional stamina. Lawson has worked closely with Van Loon and Culbreath to bring these troubled, forceful characters to life.

“Every show requires hours upon hours of rehearsals, be they dance- or dialogue-heavy,” says Lawson. “So, we still rehearse aplenty, the main difference being there is more lexibility in rehearsal times, as there are fewer schedules involved than in a larger-cast show.”

For Lawson, shifting gears from lighter fare to something weightier and meatier like ‘Night, Mother “takes no adjustment whatsoever. I love being able to switch it up; light and fun, meaningful and poignant… it’s good to have a steady variety.”

‘Night, Mother won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and was originally staged at the American Repertory Theatre in Massachusetts, with future Oscar winner Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak in the leading roles. The production then moved to Broadway, where it ran for almost 400 performances and earned four Tony Award nominations: Best Play, Best Director (Tom Moore) and Best Actress (both Bates and Pitoniak).

Playwright Norman and director Moore then adapted the play for the big screen. In 1986, Universal Pictures released the ilm version, starring Sissy Spacek as Jessie and Anne Bancroft as Mama, with additional characters added to the story. But despite generally good reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for Bancroft as Best Actress (Drama), the studio’s platform release pattern misired and the ilm earned less than $1 million at the box ofice, although it did find an audience on home video.

In 2004, Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn headlined a Broadway revival, but it ran only 65 performances.

Having seen the play and the movie, “The story is one of my favorite dramas,” attests Lawson, “and it’s a labor of love to stage this moving piece. If you are a drama fan and haven’t experienced this show live, you really shouldn’t miss it.”

As beits Lawson’s penchant for variety, Theatre Alliance will again do an about-face with its the February mainstage production: The return of the hit comedy/musical revue Forever Plaid, one of the most popular shows in the theater’s history. Having had great success with both Forever Plaid and its holiday-themed follow-up, Plaid Tidings, the original show is back by popular demand and (of course) back in plaid.

Then, perhaps in the spirit of April Fool’s Day, Theatre Alliance delves once more into Del Shores territory with its production of The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer-Trash Housewife, runs April 9-18.

wanna go?

Showtimes

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Jan.

8-9 and 15-16), and Thursday (Jan.

14 only). Ticket prices range from

$12 to $14, and reservations are

suggested. For tickets or more

information, call 336.723.7777 or

visit the official website at

wstheatrealliance.org/index.html.

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