Night, Mother to run Feb. 22 through March 10

Sometimes the hardest bonds to keep are the ones made earliest.

Take the bond between a mother and daughter. Many a woman has counted a mother as her best friend and her worst enemy, sometimes in the same day.

The Nutz-n-Boltz Theater Company tackles the difficulties that arise when a clueless mother tries to save her despairing daughter from suicide in “’Night, Mother” a 1983 play by Marsha Norman about daughter, Jessie, and her mother, Thelma (referred to as “Mama” in the play).

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Kelly Lazenby, left, plays Jessie, a troubled 40-something woman contemplating suicide as her helpless mother, played by Kim Berger, tries to stop her in Nutz-n-Boltz Theater Companys latest offering Night, Mother, which opens in Boring Feb. 22.

Jessie’s father is dead, and she is epileptic and unemployable. Her loveless marriage ended in divorce, and her absent son is a petty thief and ne’er-do-well. She wants to end her life because she sees it as “unprofitable.”

The play won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and received four Tony nominations. “’Night, Mother” was also adapted to the silver screen in 1986 for a movie that Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. Bancroft received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of Mama.

Rare combination

Kelly Lazenby of Gresham portrays Jessie in the Nutz-n-Boltz production and chose the play.

“As the artistic director of a small community theater, I do fight to find works that are not seen on stage all the time,” she says. “This play won all possible awards for drama and is written by a female playwright. Both of these criteria are rare enough for small theater, but this play is not only well-written — it is haunting and very real.”

Jessie, she adds, is a difficult person to understand.

“I am not sure, really, what motivates her,” Lazenby says. “She is a person who has accepted the fact that she has basically given up, but she also has some smarts as well as some good points. But she has so little self-worth that they aren’t noticeable.”

Lazenby shares the stage with West Linn’s Kim Berger, who plays Mama, a simple extroverted woman who craves attention.

“Although she is now a widow, she spent most of her adult years married to a man who did not love her and never gave her the time of day,” Berger adds. “Jessie has lived with Mama for years, but is a very shy, introverted person. Consequently, Mama turned to sweets — cakes, cookies, bags of candy — to try to fill the void she felt from being alone in a room full of people.”

One of Mama’s stranger qualities is her well-intentioned lying, Berger says.

“It is not beyond Mama’s capabilities to fabricate stories, just to get attention and a response from another person,” she says.

The problem is, Jessie doesn’t want the same kind of life.

“Years ago Mama accepted her life, such as it was, and settled into it,” Berger says. “She is now perfectly satisfied to watch TV, crochet and eat her peanut brittle, and it has never occurred to her that Jessie might not be as content.”

Mama is not the easiest of characters to portray, she adds.

“Mama has to switch back and forth — one moment being humorous and the next moment expressing great distress — everything from tremendous anger to extreme desperation,” she says. “It’s a fine line to walk for an actor to have to switch back and forth so quickly with it all.”

Questions, answers

The Sunday shows will feature a question-answer session with the audience after each performance, Lazenby says, noting she expects folks to query how Berger can play Jessie without weeping.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they ask about the process Kelly and I have gone through to find the emotional core of each of the characters,” Berger adds.

Both women say they have learned some heavy lessons from rehearsing the play and discussing it with Justin Lazenby, Kelly’s husband and the play’s director.

“I understand more about the disconnect that happens when your children grow up and become adults,” Kelly Lazenby says.

“They will never, ever stop being your child. But in this play, the mother and daughter have become strangers to each other, even though they live in the same house. They never really listen to each other.”

“I think the bond between mothers and daughters is very deep,” Berger says. “That doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to have their conflicts. But at the end of the day, I do believe most mothers would be willing to do anything, including sacrificing themselves, to save the life of their daughter.”

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