Holden Street Theatres Inc. 9 Nov 2023
Thelma (Kathryn Fisher) sits alone hugging a stove pot on a lounge. Draped in a warm, comforting blue night coat, she stares relentlessly into nowhere.
Despite the warm hues of the room designed by Gary Anderson, varied splashes of colour from an oddly disturbing collection of art works on the wall, the overwhelming atmosphere is of grey, deep desperation.
She perks up and begins fussing about the kitchen, talking to daughter Jessie (Martha Lott) who’s off stage. Things seem a bit lighter. More properly homely.
Jessie’s entrance changes that. She emanates an even darker grey desperation; hair tightly bound, dressed in large loose red cardigan, grey track pants and track shoes.
It’s immediately clear mother and daughter have a functioning, but fraught relationship impacted on by dark misery at the core of their individual selves. On this night, it will be challenged and irrevocably changed when Jessie announces she intends taking her life.
Marsha Norman’s play fields a multitude of difficult, crippling experiences to be found in dysfunctional, codependent or controlling relationships involving private suffering. Her profound achievement is to get past blame games and seek what real truth beneath such living there is, even if it’s not a positive one.
This is an intensely difficult, and in many ways very dangerous, thing to attempt. Traps are everywhere in this work waiting to pull actors down to the level of dogmatic, schmaltz laden moralising.
Director Peter Goers and cast do not fall for them.
Goers’ direction works to pace the emotional interaction and duelling between mother and daughter in such a way it seems we are offered momentary views of the significant interior life moments that have shaped them. Interior moments of experience that are for Jessie are her truth, for Thelma, her curse.
“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate. Well might we ask them same of this theatre experience. Fisher and Lott’s daring, vulnerable performances are in service of ‘truth’ being unburdened of caveats and predetermined expectations. It is a partnership shorn of stylistic affectations and technique laden trickery into which the audience is irresistibly drawn in to share the disquieting experience of confronting what is best ignored.
When: 7 to 25 Nov
Where: The Studio, Holden Street Theatres