It's not the type of comment you expect from an actress preparing to perform in 'night, Mother, Marsha Norman's 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a forty-something daughter who one ordinary night informs her mother that she plans to kill herself. But Edie Falco, who plays the daughter, Jessie Cates, in the new Broadway revival, insists that mirth, not despair, has sometimes impeded the rehearsal process.
"She is so funny," Falco said of her co-star Brenda Blethyn. "We could not stop laughing. We had to stop rehearsal. I have to watch myself and remind myself that I'm actually in the play with her. She's one of these people who are so brilliant and don't know it."
Blethyn, too, has found the humor in the play, which hasn't seen a Broadway revival since its premiere. "The play is full of irony and there are a lot of laughs along the way, even though we know the nature of the piece," she said. "People are funny. They say stupid things. They try every which way to alter the course of events. I'm fascinated by embarrassment, the way different people handle different situations. The way the play is written is funny, because Mama doesn't understand what's happening. She doesn't believe it's going to happen until it happens."
Michael Mayer directs the production, which will play for 19 weeks only. Previews begin Oct. 22. Opening is Nov. 14. The engagement will end on Feb. 27, 2005.
Norman said that producers have regularly approached her about reviving the work, which starred Kathy Bates and Anne Pitoniak in its original incarnation. This time, however, the mix of talent just seemed right. "I just responded instantly to this passion of [producer] Kristen Caskey and Michael together," she said. "I had been prepared for the play to remain in its far away, distant self. OK, everybody has to study it in college, so consequently they all believe I'm dead. It's true. They do think it." Mayer said he had been searching for a project on which he could work once again with Falco. The two first found each other in the mid-90s through the Warren Leight drama Side Man. For her part, Falco—who had a success with the recent Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny—said she wasn't necessarily looking for a new stage role when Mayer sent her 'night, Mother.
"We finished 'The Sopranos' in December, almost a year ago, and I read a lot of scripts," she explained. "I read movies and TV scripts. It was very hard, because my standards are very high now. I was very disappointed by the stuff I was reading. So, when this came along I was just taken. I was just thrilled. It was not unlike when I first read 'Sopranos.' I read it and part of me was already there."
Would she have considered it if it hadn't been sent by her old colleague, Mayer? "I don't know. That's a good question. It's unlikely. I don't just trust him, I love him. The experience of Side Man was so multi-layered and lasted for so many years—like five years we worked on its various incarnations. When we both started out, we were both real theatre rats. Didn't work very much, very hungry. Since we've known each other, we've been working a lot and we both have lives and careers and we're happy. We've really been through very big experiences together."
Blethyn, too, was attracted by the combination of artists. "As soon as I heard Edie was on board, I said, 'Yes, pleeeeeaaase,'" said the English actress, who will make her Broadway debut with Mother.
Blethyn has never seen the play done. Neither has Mayer. Falco saw the Broadway original, but has only dim memories of it. So none of them are haunted by the ghosts of 20 years ago. As for Norman, whose reputation was cemented by 'night, Mother, she certainly saw the 1983 staging; nonetheless, she couldn't help but see the work with new eyes this time around.
"It isn't just seeing [Falco and Blethyn] do it," she said. "It's me being older; me having children now; me having lived for all this time. I've sort of gone from Jessie to Mama in the years since I wrote this. I can't help but see the play in a different way.
"At the time I wrote it, I knew three or four people I was close to who killed themselves. I didn't know why. I didn't know if there was anything I could have done. I didn't know what it was like at that last moment. I just didn't know. And I wanted to know."
Norman has been present in rehearsal, and has made some minor changes to the script. "She's been doing little tweaks, making things less specific or more time appropriate," said Falco.
"We changed Sanka to decaf," explained Norman, getting into details. "We took out the reference to the milkman. We took out all the smoking references, because I didn't want anyone to have to smoke." She paused. "Strangely enough, the candy's all the same: Red Hots, caramels, Snow Balls."