Some plays move you no matter who performs them, and it’s just as well that Marsha Norman’s 1984 spine-chiller ‘Night, Mother is one of those, because its current revival is one of those solid, competent, uninspired events that might have produced, with a lesser script, only a damp fizzle. Norman’s tense drama depicts the night on which a suicide-bent daughter confronts the mother with whom she’s lived in muted misery for years. The unbearable pain the confrontation carries guarantees instant empathy, and the revival lets you appreciate the sage subtlety with which Norman layers the situation to do both characters justice.
That’s all the justice you do get, though, from Michael Mayer’s thoughtful but cut-and-dried staging, which carefully shows all the sidelights but somehow misses the heart of the two women’s connection. Brenda Blethyn, as the distraught mother, works with a painstaking skill that, except very near the harrowing end, only seems to underscore her distance from the role; Edie Falco, as her determined daughter, creates and sustains a powerful figure who’s barely within nodding distance of the character Norman wrote. It’s unfair to judge them by the originals, Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates, but spectators who saw the first production may constantly find the images of Pitoniak and Bates rising up in front of the less gripping performances at hand—if, that is, they can see anything at all through the floods of tears the play inevitably provokes.