A careening bus struck a power pole. The pole fell down. All the lights went out at Barry University and its Pelican Theatre. And that's why the preview night of Alliance Theatre Lab's 'night Mother was canceled and that's probably why on opening night the show began tentatively and with not much subtlety. But things improved.
Marsha Norman's 1983 Pulitzer winner is a terrific piece of work, from the conception to the page. Sixtyish Mama slumps on the battered sofa in her country living room cum kitchen, her daughter, Jessie, enters and calmly announces that she's going to kill herself before the night is out. There's a large wall clock hanging upstage, set to real time.
We know the play is a ninety-minute one-act and the clock then is the face of the suspense. Will Jessie indeed shoot herself with her beloved dead father's gun or will Mama's love prevail? Tick tock.
Sally Bondi is Mama and Aubrey Shavonn Kessler is Jessie and I confess I've not been greatly enamored of either in previous shows. A little too broad from Bondi and a little light in stage presence from Kessler have been the norm. And this is how things started out, with Mama flouncing and sighing and Jessie barely being there. But as the clock ticked on the two actresses found their footing, with Bondi ably handling the shock and horror of her daughter's impending suicide and Kessler giving the epileptic, forlorn and depressed Jessie a nice balance between the sanity of arranging her mother's future and the madness of taking her own life.
'night Mother would seem a difficult piece to enjoy; a dysfunctional family, sickness, death, loneliness, and sad, wry humor. Not much to laugh at. But the play is engrossing. The time, there it is again, flies by. This is actor/writer David Sirois' first outing as a professional director and he has done well.
One more note about Sally Bondi. On opening night there was a technical sound failure at the culmination of the show but she handled it so adroitly I thought director Sirois had elected to go for an enigmatic ending rather than the scripted. Interesting choice. But not so. It was, after all, just what happens in live theatre.
Set design by Mary Sansone, sound Howard Ferre and lighting by Will Cabrera.
The Pelican Theatre is now Alliance Theatre Lab's second stage. They will continue to mount shows at the Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes.
'night Mother runs through September 25 at the Pelican Theatre, Barry University, 11300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami Shores. 305.259.0418 or www.thealliancetheatrelab.com.