When do you know you’ve had enough of life?
If you ask NHL goalie Josh Harding you’ll get one answer. Despite being diagnosed with MS, Harding manages his condition and continues playing professional hockey.
Or you could ask Taylor Kasch, who drove a cab for a year in order to fund his Flying H theater group and its latest production, Marsha Norman’s ’Night, Mother.
In the center of Norman’s debate is Jessie Cates, a plain girl in an unnamed Midwestern town who has long suffered from epilepsy. Now that her medication has leveled off and the fog of her seizures has lifted, Jessie sees clearly the state her life is in. We catch the heroine of Norman’s quick-moving, emotionally stunning ’Night, Mother on the night she’s made her decision: enough’s enough.
Played with perfect matter-of-fact simplicity by Cynthia Killion, Jessie isn’t angry or bitter or lashing out at the world — or closer to home, her mother, Thelma. Jessie equates her experience to a ride on a bus. “It’s hot and bumpy and crowded and too noisy and more than anything you just want to get off, but the reason you don’t is because it’s another 50 blocks from where you’re going. As soon as I’ve had enough, it’s my stop. I’ve had enough.”
Now that Jessie has decided where she’s going she’s a whirlwind of activity. She busies herself with to-do lists that prepare her mother for all the small details of a post-Jessie life, from where her medications and favorite candies are stashed right down to where the plunger is kept.
And through it all, her mother, Thelma, is no ogre. Played with a delightful spunk and a cantankerous energy by Peggy Steketee, it would be difficult to fault Thelma’s Every-mother for the decisions she’s made to help her daughter. There are still moments of scorn, even shame that Thelma levels Jessie’s way, but her mother’s love never stops, right to the final scene.
Mama berates Jessie at one point for wanting to leave, to quit. “I like it here,” Thelma shouts, and vows that when it’s her time to leave they’ll have to drag her off kicking and screaming. Whether by theater demons or irony, on the afternoon of Flying H’s recent performance the lighting decided not to cooperate. In the spirit of Thelma Cates the cast overcame and adapted and performed the show under little more than a single intimate bulb — still more than enough for two excellent actresses and an undeniably riveting story.
The intimacy works in their favor. Sitting above the cast gives the audience a feeling of benevolence over the characters, and Bret McCoy’s set works particularly well with the space. His layout of the Cates’ homestead in a half-moon shape that encompasses kitchen, living room and implied attic gives one the impression of the small, condensed world that Jessie feels just isn’t enough for her, just as her affliction has limited her scope of the world. As the play takes place in 1983, one has to wonder what effect the Internet might have had on Jessie Cates’ limited reach in the world.
So when is enough enough? Perhaps it depends on who you ask. The cast of ’Night, Mother presents a very human and often funny play that doesn’t mind getting the debate started.
’Night, Mother through May 4 at the Flying H Group, 6368 Bristol Road, Ventura, www.flyinghgroup.com.