Written in 1981, ’night, Mother was produced by Robert Brustein at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1982. The play later moved to the John Golden Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for ten months to mostly favorable reviews. In 1983, the play won a Pulitzer Prize and Marsha Norman was awarded the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, given annually to a female playwright from an English-speaking country. The drama later played regional repertory theaters and has appeared widely in college anthologies of drama.
’night, Mother is a tightly crafted drama. Although it has the veneer of realism, there is a classical idealism about it. Norman wants to create real people, yet she divorces them from any set milieu. The house where the drama takes place should not show any character traits. It is neither messy nor quaint. The town is not to be associated with any regional locale or accent. The play holds to the classical unities. There are only two characters, fixed in one location. Narrative time is synchronized to performance time so that all the clocks on stage start at 8:15 p.m., or curtain time, and run throughout the performance. There are no breaks or intermissions. The drama, which moves swiftly and inevitably toward the climax, is based on the unraveling of past events.
Like Norman’s other plays, ’night, Mother treats the frustrations and trials of ordinary women who try to share their lives with each other. From one critical perspective, it is debatable how strong a feminist message the play embodies. The play depicts women’s lives as hopeless and futile. The two women in the drama undergo an emotional revelation, but little is done to change their lives. Much of what they do emphasizes the deadly routine of women’s lives, but little is done to effect a revolution. Many of the women’s problems surround their relations with absent men—fathers, husbands, and brothers. Suicide becomes a tragic gesture but leaves little...
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