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Theatre Info for the Richmond region

Firehouse Theatre Project ‘night, Mother

By • Sep 20th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
‘night, Mother
Firehouse Theatre Project: (Info) (Web)
Firehouse Theatre, Richmond, VA
Through October 19th
90 minutes without intermission
$32/$26 Seniors/$15 Students, Military, RAPT
Reviewed September 20th, 2013

September: the start of the new school year, the new football season and the new theater season in Richmond (as can be evidenced by my calendar which has four shows opening in the next two weeks).

The first of these shows that I am reviewing will be the most controversial. ‘Night Mother, which marks the official d├ębut of Jase Smith as the official Artistic Director at Firehouse Theater will unfortunately be missed by many in the Richmond area due to last season’s turmoil. I say unfortunately, because it contains two extremely strong performances by two of Richmond’s strongest actresses, Kimberly Jones Clark and Catherine Shaffner. The pair has set the bar high for other actresses in this new theater season.

Clark is Jessie, a severely depressed, unemployed, divorced epileptic, whose son is on the run from the law, her emotionally absent father has died, and she now lives an empty life with her widowed mother, Thelma.

The one-act play begins as Jessie asks her mother for her father’s old revolver. Once her mother tells her where to find it, she coolly reveals that she is planning on setting her affairs in order and killing herself that night.

At first, Thelma does not take her seriously, but as the evening progresses, Jessie not only cleans up their home, but the pair cleans up a lot of unfinished business between them. Thelma goes from dismissive (“People don’t really kill themselves”) to pleading with Jessie not to do it (“If you have the guts to kill yourself; you have the guts to stay alive.”) Having known too many people who have taken their lives, these are both extremely poignant statements.

The mother and daughter alternate between talking, arguing and bargaining. Each emotional level seems real and their portrayals feel multidimensional, believable and honest. Clark (who bears a strong resemblance to Edie Falco with her short blonde hair) is effective in bringing emotional depth to Jessie, with a calm exterior masking inner turmoil. Her distant gazes and blank stares are filled with pathos and emotion.

However, it is Shaffner whose powerful emotional climax tore at the audiences’ hearts and left few dry eyes in the intimate theater. Thelma’s matter of fact sarcasm and wit turn to a mother’s anguish on an extremely visceral level.

Director David Emerson Toney pulls all of the elements of Marsha Norman’s play together nicely, with excellent casting.

Margarette Joyner’s costume design is appropriate. There was not much for lighting designer Geno Brantley to do since the lights remain the same throughout the single scene play, but I found one choice odd — the use of a pink light in the attic crawl space. Edwin Slipek Jr.’s set is true to the characters and setting, with a fully functional kitchen that is pivotal in the business of the two characters. Joey Luck’s sound design includes audio that comes from an actual TV set.

Again, as a relative newbie to the Richmond theater community, I tread lightly when I say that if it does not go against your own strongly felt personal emotions, I strongly urge you to see two top quality emotional performances.

Photo Gallery

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Photos provided by Firehouse Theatre Project

The Cast

  • Jessie: Kimberly Jones Clark
  • Thelma (Mama): Catherine Shaffner

The Crew

  • Director: David Emerson Toney
  • Assistant Director/Dramaturge/Properties Design: Jeannie Melcher
  • Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi
  • Assistant Set Designer/Master Carpenter: Joshua Bennett
  • Set Designer: Edwin Slipek Jr
  • Lighting Design: Geno Brantley
  • Costume Design: Margarette Joyner
  • Sound Design: Joey Luck
  • Assistant Lighting Design: Nathan Wunderlich

Disclaimer: Firehouse Theatre Project provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is by day a Special Education teacher, teaching History, Science and drama to Middle and High School students in a private Day School in Stafford. He has degrees in Educational Media and Special Education. He is also a part time Radio News Anchor and occasional actor in the Richmond area. Bruce is a native of New Jersey and spent most of his "adult" life in Upstate New York, where he started and ran a national award winning youth theater and cable television program for over 10 years. He has lived in Virginia since 2002, and in Caroline County since 2005, where he is active in many community groups; including serving on the Board of Caroline's Promise.

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