Wolf Pack tackles topic of suicide with grace
The first sound following Wolf Pack Theater's opening-night performance of "night, Mother" was a forced chuckle from an audience member. This awkward reaction is ironically typical for many people when confronted with suicide, the topic of Marsha Norman's play set in the 1980s.
Mental health is not something many tend to speak openly about, and suicide is discussed even less. So watching 90 minutes of a woman detailing how and why she plans to kill herself, for a majority of the population, is not comfortable.
The play includes two woman and one act comprising the last night of the character Jessie's life. Jessie (played by Serah Pope), daughter of Thelma (played by Karen Kalensky), has decided to kill herself.
She suffers from epilepsy, has never been able to hold down a job, is divorced, lives with her mother and has just had enough.
Throughout the evening, Jessie prepares the house she shares with her mother, as well as her mother, for after she's taken her life. She practically covers the kitchen in Post-It notes, refills her mother's several candy dishes and stands her ground as her mother fights to keep her alive.
Because of the sensitivity of the topic, both actresses admitted to finding the play extremely challenging, though they presented it with incredible grace and authenticity.
"We're all afraid to die," Thelma yelled at Jessie at one point.
"I'm not," Jessie replied.
Like many who've ever been in Thelma's situation, she grasped to rationalize Jessie's desires for herself, trying to shift the blame for her daughter's depression on herself, her friends, her family, Jessie herself, Jessie's divorce, Jessie's household responsibilities and more. You can practically see her go through all of the stages of grief while Jessie is still living: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — all within the span of the 90-minute play.
And Kalensky's performance doesn't betray those raw and vivid emotions for a minute. She was Thelma — on an emotional rollercoaster — and the audience was along for the ride.
Pope similarly fell into her character, delivering Jessie's morbid humor in just the right tone to avoid verging on ridiculous, exemplified by a moment when she said "(Epilepsy) won't kill me. If it did, I wouldn't have to."
The overall feeling of watching Pope and Kalensky can only be described as one of chilling calm mixed with anticipation. You could feel the possibility of Jessie's death lingering, but her eerie acceptance of her fate made for mixed emotions.
Pope and Kalensky play a remarkably believable mother-daughter pair. The dialogue of the two as scripted authentically portrays how many people still react to and view the act of suicide and mental health, and how a mother would react to the devastating fact that her daughter no longer wanted to live.
The play will run through June 30 at the theater, 39570 Pioneer Blvd.