The most cheerful thing about '' 'night, Mother,'' Marsha Norman's 1983 Pulitzer Prize play, is its setting. Heidi Landesman has designed a spic-and-span interior for the country roadside dwelling where the action takes place. Though modest, it could qualify for a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The lighting by James F. Ingalls brightens every corner. The well-tidied look is a tribute to Jessie Cates (Kathy Bates), who manages the household in return for being given a home by her mother.
The initial cheery impression is short lived. Within minutes after the curtain has risen at the John Golden Theatre, Jessie retrieves her late father's revolver from the attic and announces she is going to commit suicide. For the next hour and a half, Jessie argues her case for self-destruction while the distraught Thelma begs her daughter to reconsider.
The debate is interupted for digressions into domestic arrangements and for familial reminiscences. There is the comic relief which Miss Norman manages to extract from even this desperate situation. The characters are authentic and the writing is skillful. But neither the author's compassion for daughter and mother nor the sensitive performance staged by Tom Moore can alter the fact that '' 'night, Mother'' ends a litany of despair over physical and mental anguish with an irreversible act of desperation.