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Of depression and expression

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EUGENE DOMINGO and Sherry Lara present searingly realistic performances in PETA’s production of ’Night Mother. — NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter

Theater Review
’Night Mother
Presented by PETA
Feb. 2 to March 18, Fridays to Sundays
The PETA Theater Center,No.5 Eymard
Drive, New Manila, Quezon City

EVERYTHING IN this play by Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) is perfect, and this perfection becomes scary in how accurately it is a depiction of life. Flawless lines that resonate and pierce a vulnerable heart because the imagined characters on stage become so real — you know them or you are them. ’Night, Mother must come with a heavy warning: watch it with caution because this 90-minute uninterrupted two-woman play is flawless and will leave you breathless and tearful.

Starring two great actresses Eugene Domingo and Sherry Lara as daughter and mother, ’Night, Mother talks about depression and repressed emotions.

Let’s talk depression.

The story’s premise is straightforward: Jessie (Domingo) is suffering from depression and she has decided kill herself on a Saturday night using her father’s old gun. Jessie has the guts to tell her mother, Thelma (Lara), about her plan — and naturally she objects to it. Jessie tells Thelma because she does not want her to be surprised or to blame herself. She instructs and reminds her mother about what to do and how to go on living even after she’s gone. She even coaches her on how to answer relatives’ or the policemen’s queries.

A real-time play, ’Night Mother starts promptly at 8 p.m. (there is a clock on the set to show the time), and because it is promoted as a 90-minute show, the audience knows that the play will be finished at around 9:30 p.m. While Jessie is adamant that her plans cannot be changed, still, the audience (or this writer, at least) remain hopeful that by the time the clock on the set strikes 9:30 p.m., Jessie will take back her death wish, everything ends well, and the mother and daughter live happily ever after.

’Night Mother, however, isn’t about the end but about what has lead to this decision. It is about the conversations between a daughter whose death is decided and a mother who will be left behind and who does not know how to live because it is her daughter who does everything for her. Unlike most suicides where people only leave long letters filled with sorry’s and thank you’s and do not give their loved ones a chance to say what they want, Thelma is given this rare opportunity.

A magnificent actress, Ms. Lara’s characterization is natural and heartfelt as she gets the audience to empathize with Thelma’s every plea, negotiation, and effort to buy more time with her daughter. Ms. Domingo returns to the stage after a five-year hiatus and reminds everyone that there is more to her than the comic characters she has been playing on screen lately. Calm and collected as any “normal” person, her portrayal brings to the fore the realization that not all people who look “perfectly normal” really feel okay deep inside.

’Night, Mother banks on its strong script that moves the narrative forward while unraveling the characters’ personalities, their deepest secrets, their loneliness, the lies they tell themselves and their loved ones, and the choices they made in life. Despite the dark humor present in the mother-daughter banter, which warrants a smirk or a laugh, the show conveys to the audience the conversations we should be having with our parents, friends, or lovers.

In his director’s note, Melvin Lee said that ’Night, Mother should be about the talks “we’ve had or should have had with our loved ones. Through conversation comes clarity. We need clarity in our feelings and thoughts to steer us away from darkness.”

Ian Lomongo, who adapted the script to Filipino from Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, did a magnificent job as well. The original script was written in the 1980s, but Mr. Lomongo modernized and localized it — words like “tokhang” and “EJK” make an appearance. The result is a relatable play. Together, Mssrs. Lee and Lomongo have captured the nuances and dynamics of a Filipino family, which is often conservative and too polite to talk about the issues that really matter, not until one family member gets depressed, or worse, commits suicide.

REPRESENTING DEPRESSION
According to psychologist Dr. Randy Dellosa who was present during the media preview on Jan. 24, the play’s script and its depiction of depression are truthful and accurate.

The play informs the audience that Jessie is epileptic. She is pictured as hopeless, and she has an inexplicable void in her heart. She does not want to go outside her house, she is unhappy, she has negative thoughts about herself, and she has anxieties for her future. For her, death is the answer to end her anxiety. Jessie aspires to her own death because she says she is fed up with the uncertainties in her life: Will her son grow up to be a good man? Will her husband, who abandoned her, go back to her? What does tomorrow bring?

Jessie’s realistic thoughts and line of thinking are so familiar and perfectly rendered that they may trigger someone in the audience who has depression. As mentioned earlier, watch it with caution, with an open mind, and with a close friend whom you can talk to afterwards. PETA will be holding Q&A sessions with psychologists and experts after each performance to debrief the audience and to release any pent up emotion.

In today’s society where there are increasing cases of depression and suicide, and people rarely have deep and meaningful conversations with their loved ones, ’Night, Mother is a timely reminder to sit down and have a talk.

Tickets are available at www.ticketworld.com.ph.

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