'night, Mother, written in 1981, was Marsha Norman's fifth play. The work received generally favorable reviews when it was first produced on stage in 1983. Among the numerous honors bestowed upon the play, it was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Critics have lauded the play for its emotional honesty and realistic dialogue, with much of the praise focused on the play's unflinching depiction of a family—specifically a mother and daughter—in crisis. This lack of sentimentality and the play's focus on the loneliness and emptiness of the two women's lives are often cited by those praising 'night, Mother. In contrast, those who did not like the play most often complain that it is drab and lacks any significant development in its two characters. While this was not intended as a condemnation of the play, dissenting critics also said that those reviewers who praised the play so lavishly were over-reacting to a dramatic work that was adequate but not great—let alone deserving of a Pulitzer. On balance, however, 'night, Mother was well-received, by audiences and critics alike, for its realism and honesty.
When 'night, Mother premiered in Canada in 1984 the notices were favorable. Although reviewers in the United States had not generally reviewed the play as feminist, Canadian critics did note that the work presented men only as peripheral characters in the women's lives and that women were central to the play's themes. Although the topic of 'night, Mother is unhappiness that results in suicide, Norman manages to interject some macabre humor through sharp dialogue. Despite its impartial (even negative) stance toward suicide, 'night, Mother nevertheless became a source of controversy due to its inclusion of that subject. The issue was intensified by the Pulitzer Prize going to the play. Yet Norman's work is viewed by most as a depiction of a failed mother/daughter relationship, a chronical of the daughter's deep unhappiness, and, ultimately, her inability to deal with her lot in life. In this sense the play is valued as both a gritty work of fiction and a cautionary tale that has bearing on real life.