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While on the surface, Marsha Norman’s “’Night Mother” appears to be a play about a mother-daughter duo, the play, which runs at Anacostia Playhouse until May 13, unearths taboo topics, allowing audiences to grapple with their own values — particularly as it relates to love and suicide.
Directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes, Anacostia Playhouse’s “’Night Mother” artfully reveals the beauty and precious moments that exist even in pain.
In the play, daughter Jessie, played by Lezlie Hatcher, decides to end her own life. No — this isn’t a spoiler. Actually, one should probably know suicide is a topic discussed in great detail in the show. But despite the darkness in this tale, there’s also so much light and hope.
“I wanted to bring out the beauty,” Starnes said in a Washington Informer WIN-TV interview. “We have a lot of misconceptions, particularly in [the Black] community, about death by suicide, and about depression and also the strength of the Black and brown woman. And so I wanted to show us multifaceted women — women who could laugh, women who could cry, women who could feel joy, and women who could feel pain deeply. And it was quite a journey for the actors, and they took that ride with me.”
From the engaging acting by Hatcher and Patricia Williams-Dugueye as the mother Thelma to the detailed set by April Joy, and the enchanting sound and lighting designs by Jerrett Harrington, every element of the show was captivating and revealed the hard work it took for Starnes, Stage Manager Denise Richards, and the entire team to breathe life into this heavy production.
The play opens the gate for a lot of conversations, such as family secrets, protecting and harming loved ones, and mental health.
“I thought about how Black and brown suffer in silence… you slap that smile on your face, and you get up and go to work and inside there’s this digging, this hurt, this pain,” Starnes said.
The director also emphasized that she hopes people will have an expanded idea of how they view and discuss suicide.
“One of the things that I would love people to talk about it is to not stigmatize, or victimize, or also condemn people who are faced with that decision,” Starnes said, before adding that she hopes the show encourages audiences to be more diligent in checking in on loved ones.
“Just say, ‘I love you,’” Starnes said, gleaning her message from the characters in the play. “I think one of the things that comes out of this is that neither one knew the other loved them, and I think that was the root of the situation.”
Starnes, who is also a professional actor and arts educator, said she hopes that the overarching message is the importance of spreading love.
“I personally feel like if our community can get together and love on each other, we could do some things,” Starnes explained. “We could really do some beautiful harm in our community, because I think one of the things that was taken from us is our ability to love.”
For tickets and more information, go to anacostiaplayhouse.com.