Two Plays Form Winning Combo

'Night, Mother,' 'Lone Star' Offer Open-ended Character Studies

February 06, 1991|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

WESTMINSTER — Coupling Marsha Norman's 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Night, Mother" with James McLure's relatively obscure "Lone Star" for the Western Maryland College Theatre's first production of 1991 was a capitalidea, and one seldom seen put into practice.

Both long, one-act plays offer character studies that leave the audience the opportunity and necessity to fill in the blanks.

"Night, Mother" begins with a 30-something daughter announcing toher mother that she is going to kill herself. More than an hour later, she does. In the interval, we are treated to clues to her motivations and learn a great deal about the mother, the more interesting andimportant of the two.

Jessie, the daughter, spends her final hours under tight control, checking off on lists things to be taken care of before she shoots herself. When I first saw this play in New York in 1984, I thought my inability to feel for Jessie was a result of being in the second-to-last row of the balcony. Subsequent performances have reinforced my belief there is little emotion written into the script.

"Night, Mother" could well be a Pulitzer Prize-winning monologue, given the depth and richness with which Mama is imbued.

Mary Lou Grout of Westminster takes advantage of almost all of that depth and richness in a convincing portrayal of a frightened, confused and weary woman.

The playwright wanted to avoid placing any blame for the suicide, and has done this effectively. However, an unfortunate directorial decision to stage the curtain call with the women at opposite sides of the stage in obviously adversarial positions and attitudes is destructive and misleading.

The second play, "Lone Star,"is a probing, yet humorous study of three men in Texas in the 1970s.The play, named after the Texas beer, is packed with symbols of maleness and warrior values, and, while almost plotless, manages to delvedeeply into the male psyche.

The actors were fascinating and engaging, with the exception of one who too often overextended his character into an unintended world of farce.

Otherwise, it is a highly satisfying production, tightly and intelligently directed by first-time student-director Rock Reiser.

The two sets are well done and solve the problem of combining naturalism in the Texas comedy and the realism of the drama. Steve Parsons continues to demonstrate his developing ability to provide evocative and provocative stage environments.

Green plants, in need of nurturing, could be seen as symbolic of the daughter's plight in the Norman play. A working wall clock ticked off her final moments.

It is a great loss to theater-goers that this fine double-bill was performed on only one weekend. Those who missed it, missed much.

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