Up Close and Personal: Signpost Theatre’s Pulitzer Production ‘Night Mother
Imagine watching a play without a stage, without a curtain, nothing separating actors from audience. The intimacy factor is unmatchable, the actors’ performances taut with emotional suspense and powerful dialogue. This is the vision of artistic director and founder of Signpost Theatre, D. Eugene Bahn, as he brings Pulitzer prize-winning play, ‘Night Mother, to life on February 7.
“It’s like the difference between a long shot done in film where you’ve got a lot of stuff going on all around and a close up,” Bahn says.
He’d witnessed a powerful rehearsal years earlier that ignited the idea for this style of performance. “The actors had the skits in their hands, but they were far enough along that they were good. And they were really living the role; nobody in costumes, just their street clothes. I became captivated. I thought, ‘that’s what it’s all about!’”
Bahn directed Signpost’s first production in the fall of 2017, The MOMologues, a play with four female actors. “I pick the actors I know I want to be in the play, based on their work. And stories that are challenging to actors and engaging for audiences—actors’ plays. The stories that interest me have really strong female characters in them, and although it resonates with the current times it’s more of a personal preference. Of course the actresses are excited about it because they feel, more than anybody, that roles have been limited in the past, with even fewer roles for older women.”
As an actor living in San Francisco, Bahn, was reading numerous plays when he came across ‘Night Mother, the Pulitzer winning play by writer Marsha Norman.
“It spoke to me,” he says. “What if it’s your last chance to have a conversation with a loved one—would it make a difference in what you would say? The story just grabbed me.”
The intimate theatre style he promotes is not without its challenges. Aside from the no curtain-no stage design, performance schedules must be created around the needs of the venue, sometimes putting a span of days between shows. Props, lights, costumes are all minimized, if necessary at all. Yet Bahn puts complete faith in exceptional playwriting, actors’ abilities and the human condition factor.
“If it’s just a bunch of talking heads then the audience will get bored. The story needs to be engaging, character driven as opposed to plot driven. With ‘Night Mother it’s got everything. I think it’s written for a smart reader, a smart audience; you’re not handed anything.”
“You know, you can have second thoughts about what you’re doing,” Bahn adds. With only twenty seats per show, he hopes the audience experiences something very visceral. “We’re doing something that’s a risk and exciting and I think that challenge energizes people. In ‘Night Mother the actors go on and don’t stop for ninety minutes. I invited actors I knew who had the work ethics. They do it because they love it.”
The story centers on a daughter believing she is trapped by her life and her mother trying to understand. When the daughter drops a bombshell the play tersely, yet light-handedly, splays open a taboo topic.
“There are dramas that go towards tragedy, and this one does, but it’s funny too,” Bahn shares. “Most of the best dramas have a lot of humor in them. Hopefully we can do it justice. You’ve really got to be thinking and able to feel it; it’s a very cathartic experience.”
‘Night Mother will feature actors Melissa Olmstead and Tricia Drevets who have performed in numerous productions including Harvey, Steel Magnolias and The MOMologues.
7 pm, Feb. 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21
2 pm, Feb. 11 and 18
Merging Rivers Zen Practice Center, 243 SW J Street, Grants Pass
$12, advance. $18, door.