'night Mother

By: Claire P.


'night Mother was written by Marsha Norman in 1983. She was born on September 21, 1947. She is still living, and is currently the Co-chair of playwriting at Julliard. Norman is the oldest of four children, and grew up going to the theatre and playing the piano. After she graduated college with a master's degree, and became a journalist for The Louisville Times. She also began teaching young children in mental institutions and hospitals, which was a major influence on her later plays.

Norman published her first play, Getting Out, in 1979. This play follows a woman who was just paroled, and parallels Norman's experience with teaching in hospitals. Her next play, 'Night Mother, would turn out to be her most well known and most critically acclaimed work to date. (It is important to note that Norman also contributed to several musicals, including the book and/or lyrics for The Secret Garden, the Color Purple, and The Red Shoes.)

'Night Mother

'Night Mother follows a depressed widow, named Jessie, who tells her mother, Thelma, that she plans to commit suicide in the morning. As the play goes on, all of her reasons slowly come to light, with the play climaxing with Jessie locking her room, and committing suicide.

The original cast on Broadway included Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983, and was nominated for four Tony Awards. It was also adapted into a highly popular movie version, starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft.

A Mexican version of the play was written, called Bueno Noches, Mama. This adaption was also critically acclaimed and has had sold out shows from it's opening in 2010, all the way to now. There was a revival in 2004 of the original. Supposedly, in 2014, there was to be a revival again with Oprah Winfrey, but so far, nothing has come of it.

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Norman's experience of dealing with troubled youth led her to writing 'night Mother. She dealt with teens and young adults that wanted to commit suicide on a daily basis. As a young child, she was often described as solitary. Her parents believed the neighborhood kids weren't good enough to play with her, so Norman spent a large quantity of her childhood indoors. Reading, writing, and playing the piano were all how she escaped the harsh realities of her early life. (It is interesting to note that her parents were religious fundamentalists, but Norman has never shown much religious faith publicly.) Her experience with teaching mentally ill or emotionally disturbed children left her with an understanding of why many people wish to commit suicide or are depressed.

The 1970-80s were harshly skeptical of mental illness. Many people believed during that time that it was bad behavior, or personality issues. In the late 70s, the Mental Health America lobbied for changes more vigorously than ever before. Suicide was rarely openly talked about. Even though there had been significant changes in the mental health care system, there was still a stigma against taking your life, and the social impact that it could leave on your family could be devastating. Mental institutions still used harsh treatments, such as EST and lobotomies. A play such as 'night Mother was way beyond its time.