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'night, Mother

For the film based on the play, see 'night, Mother (film).
'night, Mother
Written by Marsha Norman
Characters Jessie Cates
Thelma Cates
Date premiered 1983
Place premiered American Repertory Theater
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Original language English

'night, Mother is a 1983 play by Marsha Norman about a daughter, Jessie, and her mother, Thelma (referred to as "Mama" in the play). The play opens with Jessie calmly telling Mama that by morning she will be dead, as she plans to commit suicide that very evening (she makes this revelation all while nonchalantly organizing household items and preparing to do her mother's nails). The subsequent dialogue between Jessie and Mama slowly reveals her reasons for her decision, her life with Mama, and how thoroughly she has planned her own death, culminating in a disturbingTemplate:Spaced ndashyet unavoidableTemplate:Spaced ndashclimax.

The play is the winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


The play premiered at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, starring Kathy Bates as Jessie and Anne Pitoniak as Mama. This production opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre with the same cast and directed by Tom Moore on March 31, 1983 and closed on February 26, 1984 after 380 performances.

It received 4 Tony Award nominations: Best Play, Best Actress in a Play (both Bates and Pitoniak) and Best Director (Tom Moore). The play won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[1]

The 1986 film version of the same name starred Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft as daughter and mother, respectively. Marsha Norman adapted her own play and wrote the screenplay. Tom Moore, who directed the play on Broadway, also directed the film. The film added more characters, whereas the play featured only two performers. The film received lukewarm reviews, although Bancroft received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Drama) in a Film.

A Broadway revival opened at the Royale Theatre on November 14, 2004 and closed on January 9, 2005 after 65 performances and 26 previews; it starred Edie Falco and Brenda Blethyn ans was directed by Michael Mayer.[2]

On March 12, 2010 the Mexican version titled "Buenas Noches, Mama" debuted starring Edith González as "Jessie" and Rosa Maria Bianchi as "Thelma".[3] The play has received rave reviews from critics and audiences and since its debut has had sold out shows.

In February 2014, it was reported that a Broadway revival starring Oprah Winfrey as Thelma and Audra McDonald as Jessie is in talks. The play would open on Broadway during the 2015-2016 season, with George C. Wolfe linked to direct.[4]


The scene is the living room/kitchen of a small house on an isolated country road, which is shared by Jessie and her mother. Jessie's father is dead; she is epileptic and unemployable, her loveless marriage ended in divorce; her absent son is a petty thief and ne'er-do-well; her last two jobs failed and, in general, her life is stale and unprofitable. As the play begins Jessie asks for her father's service revolver and calmly announces that she intends to kill herself. At first her mother refuses to take her seriously, but as Jessie sets about tidying the house and making lists of things to be looked after, her sense of desperate helplessness begins to build. In the end, with the inexorability of genuine tragedy, she can only stand by, stunned and unbelieving, as Jessie quietly closes and locks her bedroom door and ends her profound unhappiness in one fatal, stunning and deeply disturbing moment—a moment never to be forgotten by those who have witnessed, and come to understand, her plight.


Jessie Cates: A divorced woman who lives with her widowed mother. She is an epileptic who has experienced seizures most of her life. Nothing in life has worked out for this woman, including raising a son who turned out to be a disappointing loser. She has suffered with severe extended depression that has never been treated. In the play her long standing despair has been temporarily relieved by a decision that has her uncharacteristically peaceful and talkative. The usual gray pallor and unsteady physical energy of this woman have given way to a new purpose that is expressed in productivity and detached humor.

Thelma "Mama" Cates: A widow, she is starting to feel her age and has easily allowed her depressed daughter to come and take care of all of the details of her life. She sees life as she wants it to be, rather than how it is. She speaks quickly and enjoys talking. She is a simple country woman who never wanted much and could find a way to be happy with whatever she had, even if it meant lying to herself and others. She has no need for intimacy in relationships, but is energized by social situations.


Ben Brantley, in his New York Times review of the 2004 revival, wrote: "...these two first-rate actresses are never quite at home in their roles.... Ms. Norman's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ... is looking more artificial than it did two decades ago.[2] Reviewing the 2004 revival, Elyse Sommers wrote in that Blethyn's performance "is superb" and that "Falco embodies a woman who has given up on life as anything remotely resembling fun and optimism." She expressed reservations about the "play's psychological authenticity."[5]


  1. ^ Carmody, Deirdre. " 'Night Mother' Wins Pulitzer Drama Prize" April 19, 1983
  2. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "Review. Mother-Daughter Angst, With Death in the Wings" The New York Times, November 15, 2004
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Gioia, Michael. "Will Oprah Winfrey Make Broadway Debut Opposite Audra McDonald in 'night, Mother?; 'Color Purple' Revival in the Works", February 6, 2014
  5. ^ Sommer, Elyse. "A CurtainUp review - 'Night, Mother", November 16, 2004

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