Born into a Christian fundamentalist household, playwright Marsha Norman wasn’t allowed to play with other children or watch television or movies. However, she was allowed to read, play the piano and watch productions at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.
It could be argued that this combination of “don’t” and “dos” resulted in Norman’s successful career as a playwright, screenwriter, television writer and novelist. It also might explain the inspiration for her play ‘night, Mother, which earned her the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Hull-Warriner, and the Drama Desk Award.
The play is by turns tragic and comic as it deals with the relationship between a troubled daughter and her mother. It will be presented June 20-29 at Cardinal Rep. The production is directed by David I.L. Poole, and stars Carla Knudsen as Jessie, the daughter, and Gail Byrd as the mother.
In April 2007, Poole directed Agnes of God at Cardinal Rep, then called Savannah Actor’s Theatre. He gave the production a decidedly Asian aspect, even training the actors in the Suzuki acting method. Connect Savannah recently spoke with Poole about ‘night, Mother:
Can we expect some surprises, as with Agnes of God?
David I.L. Poole: This is an actor’s play, not a designer piece. I’ve tried to keep it simple and not try to reinvent the wheel so much. I do have my own touch to this. Mostly it’s a clear production of ‘night, Mother by Marsha Norman. The thing that is unusual is that we are doing it in the round. It has its own little complement to go along with it. It makes the production more intimate, almost voyeuristic. What I wanted is for the audience to feel that they really are coming into the living room and kitchen of the mother and her older daughter. The play is really about the relationship between two women. It’s a wonderful show. I think it will resonate with a lot of people.
Have you seen other productions of ‘night, Mother?
David I.L. Poole: I got to see the original production on video when I went to the Lincoln Center library and did research on it. I saw the Broadway revival with Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn in person. When they said, ‘Why don’t you direct ‘night, Mother, I said ‘Sure!’
Which character is more sympathetic, the mother or daughter?
David I.L. Poole: I don’t think anyone wins this battle. Or is there a battle, really? I think the play is actually a dramedy. There are some really funny moments, as well as dark moments. I feel a lot of people aren’t familiar with this show, even though it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Marsha Norman, who went on to an illustrious career as a writer. It shot Kathy Bates to fame and established her as a leading lady. There was a screen version, with Anne Bancroft as the mother and Sissy Spacek as the daughter. But when I tell people here I’m doing it, they say, ‘What is it?’ A lot of regional theaters do this play. It’s one act with no intermission. When you get there, we got you. It’s a very interesting piece that has universal ideas and themes. A lot of people will understand this play. Maybe they know someone who has a situation that is very similar.
How has this production challenged you?
David I.L. Poole: This is funny. One item in the play you have to have is Hostess Snowballs. They don’t sell them here. I went everywhere! I went to Piggly-Wiggly, Parker’s, Publix. I even called Hostess themselves. I called people in New York, who were ready to send me a case of Hostess Snowballs. What I found is that it’s a seasonal product. The Cupcake Emporium is making what appears to be Hostess Snowballs for us. Gail has to eat them at the beginning of the play.
Cardinal Rep: ‘Night, MotherWhat: A Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the relationship between a troubled daughter and her mother. When: June 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29 at 8 p.m.Where: Cardinal Rep, 703D Louisville Rd.Cost: Adults $15, students/military/seniors $10.Info: firstname.lastname@example.org.