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'night, Mother

Jessie Cates feels like she has nothing to live for. Battling an illness that has left her homebound and saddled with a delinquent son from a broken marriage, she trudges through her daily existence with only her mother, Thelma, for company. Still, it comes as quite a shock when Jessie announces that she is going to kill herself -- this very night, locked in her room -- and yet at the same time has enough presence of mind to offer her mother a manicure and shopping advice before she goes.

That is the premise of Marsha Norman's Pulitzer Prize and Drama Desk Award recipient, " 'night, Mother," which still packs a theatrical wallop 20 years after its debut. Many playgoers will revisit Norman's taut, tense drama knowing the outcome, while patrons seeing it for the first time will sit uncomfortably in anticipation of Jessie's fate. In both cases, viewers will be jolted by the final moments of the play.

Michael Mayer helms the show, expertly guiding the gradual revelation of pent-up emotions and secrets from the past. And Mayer has two of the finest working actresses in the business interacting as mother and daughter: Brenda Blethyn embodies Thelma with an everyday, at-home ease that is ultimately destroyed by her daughter's announcement, while Edie Falco displays strong conviction as Jessie, despite playing her as extremely unglamorous and unemotional. Falco follows her character's step-by-step plan to suicide as if it were just another item on her to-do list, which makes the impact of her intentions all the more unsettling.

The picture-perfect setting by Neil Patel, warm lighting by Brian MacDevitt, and serene sound by Dan Moses Schreier add up to an accurate portrait of Middle America. Michael Krass provides the lived-in costumes that transform the Hollywood stars into suburban women.

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