‘Night Mother By Carolyn Dittmer for the Daily News
Chekhov alleged that a gun seen in a play’s first act must go off before the curtain goes down. That said, the gun on the set of NMSU-A Theatre on the Hill’s upcoming production ‘Night, Mother at times becomes the “elephant in the room” as actresses, Jennifer Fountain as Jessie Cates and Joylyn Mercouris as her mother, Thelma Cates engage in alternating intense and casual conversation revealing the gravity of their situation in this 1983 Pulitzer Prize winning drama written by Marsha Norman.
“In graduate school, one of my areas of study was mother-daughter relationships in plays by contemporary American women playwrights,” said Director and NMSU-A Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, Connie Breding. “I chose ‘Night, Mother because it is a script I have wanted to direct ever since I first read it in 1983.”
According to Breding, ‘Night, Mother is difficult to produce because it requires accomplished performers of appropriate ages who can hold the audience’s attention for the 90 minute, one-act play. Breding did not hold auditions, but approached and cast just such actors–Fountain and Mercouris.
“I think Jenn and Joylyn, eat, breathe and sleep their roles!” said Breding. “They will get the audience invested in the play, wondering about the outcome, and thinking about family dynamics.”
Mercouris’ said her challenge in portraying Thelma is “keeping up the intensity, not letting the action or emotions flag from beginning to end”.
Mercouris, whose first role was Baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant well before her first birthday, has been in the limelight much of her life as performer, scriptwriter and choreographer as well as having worked on a professional props crew with the traveling production of The Music Man and as assistant director for In Our Own Voices. Mercouris has even appeared on television on a Detroit talk show and as a contestant on two nationally televised game shows. Cast in the second NMSU-A production of The Vagina Monologues, Mercouris said, “This is where I first met Jenn, the director and she was a delight to work with.”
“Joylyn has been one of the most impressive actors I’ve worked with,” said Fountain of costar, Mercouris. “Her energy, enthusiasm and openness are catching and make rehearsal a real joy and true exploration each day.”
Fountain’s first memory of acting is also a Christmas pageant, but she was “lost” in the craft at age 13, after landing a role in a Renaissance performing company, Scarborough Faire where she formed and directed a Gypsy Troupe.
“That was where I learned a lot about working with people and selling them on a ‘vision’, basically what you do when you direct a show,” said Fountain.
Returning to school after doing community and professional theatre in the Dallas area, Fountain was eventually accepted into a graduate program at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
“My understanding of myself, my acting and the professional theatre world exploded and I had the best two years of my life in that program,” said Fountain. “Mainly I was given the confidence of knowing I could be a professional in the theatre.”
In ‘Night Mother, Fountain was confronted with trying to truly understand Jessie, why she is the way she is and what makes her do the things she does.
“I respect her immensely and hope to do her words and ideas justice; this also refers to the author,” said Fountain.
Assistant Director/Stage Manager and NMSU-A student, Michael Carrillo is involved in ‘Night Mother as his assignment for the Running Crew class he is taking. He also played the role of The Dream Keeper in last spring’s children’s play, “The Dream Keeper.”
“He has good knowledge of theatrical and acting process, and this experience is allowing him to see, firsthand, what a director does,” said Breding. “He will serve as the stage manager once the play goes into production; in that capacity, he will make sure all props are set correctly, things are working properly, and give light/sound cues.”
NMSU-A Theatre on the Hill presents ‘Night, Mother, on Friday and Saturday, November 9, 10, 16 & 17 at 7:30 pm and on Sunday, November 18 at 2:00 pm at the Rohovec Theatre. Admission is $8 and advance tickets are available at The Blue Stone and TLC Portraits. For more information, call Diana at 439-3670.
For information on this event: http://nmsua.edu/calendar/
Cast: Joylyn Mercouris as Thelma and Jennifer Hunt Fountain as Jessie
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Michael Carrillo
Scene and Lighting Designer: Will Bartlett
Scene shop technicians: Michael Carrillo, Chris Satterwhite, Daniel Henderson, Gavin Kainulainen
Carolyn Dittmer is an Alamogordo-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.