A View from House Seats
By Shirley Lorraine
The Elite Theatre in Oxnard has tackled some sensitive subjects in the past. On stage now is perhaps the most touchy of all – suicide and depression. Not a topic easily offered, nor one to be taken lightly. In the Tony-award and Pulitzer-prize winning drama, ‘night, Mother, the Elite stages a powerful work that is heart-rending, introspective and served with just enough moments of humor to keep the audience absorbed.
Directed by Brian Robert Harris, the two-person cast delivers with force. Thelma Cates (Kimberly Demmary) is a middle-class, middle-aged widow who has settled into a functional existence purposly devoid of excitement and change. Her daughter Jessie (Emily Asher Kellis) now lives with her mother following upsets in her own life. She suffers from severe depression and now has decided that enough is enough. She plans to kill herself tonight. The act is no longer debatable.
What follows is n uninterrupted exchange between mother and daughter in which understanding is attempted without much success. Jessie does her best to prepare her mother for her absence, while mother is actively denying acceptance of the situation.
Depression is an incidious malady. It can creep up on you, build slowly or attack maliciously. For Jessie, the build-up has been constant, with years and layers of missteps, misunderstandings and misinformation. The burden is now too great to endure. Still, she feels it is critical that her mother gain a glimmer of understanding and takes great pains to prepare her for the inevitable.
Demmary gives a solid, masterful performance of a woman filled with pain, denial and hope. While the character does have a grasp of her daughter’s despair, she also cannot imagine life without her and simply refuses to do so. She herself is no picture of mental health and fights to maintain what little equilibrium she has.
Emily Asher Kellis is an enigma in the role of the emotionally tortured daughter. She is at times bouncy, smiling and patient, and at other times angry, discouraged and pragmatic. She obsessively makes lists, rearranges items in the cupboard, and futilely attempts to give her mother one last touching gift that is repeatedly rejected– a manicure. She loves her mother and knows her action will cause great pain. At the same time, her mind is simply ready to blow. She is on overload.
While it is true that in most cases, those who intend to commit suicide do so without fanfare and lengthy discussion, the play’s content analyzes the thought processes in both mother and daughter, giving the audience insights into how the situation came to this point. Even though the end is announced early on, when it does take place, the reality still hits like a hammer.
A Pultizer play powerfully portrayed.
‘night, Mother continues through May 22. Performances are Friday and Satursday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Ont Thursday performance closing weekend. Covid cautions still in place. (805) 483-5118, www.theElite.org