CityRep gives Pulitzer-winning dramatic play 'night, Mother its Oklahoma premiere 

click to enlarge Kris Schinske is Jessie and Pam Dougherty is Mama in CityRep’s production of ’night, Mother. (Mutz Photography / Provided)
  • Mutz Photography / Provided
  • Kris Schinske is Jessie and Pam Dougherty is Mama in CityRep’s production of ’night, Mother.

This year marks Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s 15th anniversary. During that time, CityRep has always embraced sensitive and controversial productions, and Pulitzer Prize-winning ’night, Mother — a drama confronting depression and suicide — carries on the tradition.

The production marks ’night, Mother’s professional Oklahoma premiere, said Don Jordan, CityRep founding artistic director.

“As part of our mission of service to our city, we have frequently produced plays that deal with various topics of great social significance,” he said.

The Marsha Norman play runs through Sunday in CitySpace Theatre at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.

’night, Mother explores the life of a woman who wonders if life is worth living and ultimately ponders her own existence.

“This play has been widely recognized as one of the most significant American plays of the past 50 years,” Jordan said.

Founding company member Ruth Charnay directs the play, which features affiliated artists Kris Schinske as Jessie and Pam Dougherty as Mama.

“This reunites all three of these exceptional artists from our nationally acclaimed production of August: Osage County as they work together to tackle another great American drama,” Jordan said.

Community awareness

With ’night, Mother, Jordan said CityRep hopes to foster increased awareness of the troubling issue of suicide in Oklahoma and throughout the nation.

“According to national statistics, the suicide rate has been increasing for the past 15 years,” Jordan said. “We felt we could serve our community in this instance by helping bring attention to the problem through our artistic medium.”

CityRep partnered with Integris and HeartLine to provide community outreach and hosts post-show talkback sessions after most performances. Tim Thompson, a CityRep board member, also works at Integris.

“We will have resources available before and after the play for those who are in need of help themselves, or for their loved ones,” Thompson said.

Jordan said the cast and crew rehearsed five weeks to ready the play, which is presented in CitySpace’s intimate theater.

“From an artistic perspective, our latest production continues CityRep’s history of producing great plays that address important community concerns,” Jordan said. “Seeing this great play and cast in this kind of ‘up close and personal’ staging will be a riveting theatrical experience.”

Historical impact

CityRep was founded in 1998. Through the years, it has staged thought-provoking productions such as The Laramie Project, which confronted with bigotry, homophobia and violence. The Oklahoma City Project hit closer to home and examined the impact of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing on the community. The Normal Heart dealt with the early days of the HIV and AIDS crisis, while The Mountaintop portrayed the story of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in Oklahoma, according to Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) statistics. Between 2004 and 2013, 5,873 suicides were reported — nearly 600 deaths each year. Life stressors such as work, personal health, finances or marital problems impacted those who went on to commit suicide.

Faced with a recent $13 million cut from the agency’s budget, ODMHSAS has been forced to slash nearly $23 million from its operations and services budgets since January. It estimates more than 73,000 Oklahomans will experience reduced services as a result.

“It’s heartbreaking that we have to make these cuts … but there are no other options at this point,” said Terri White, ODMHSAS commissioner, in a statement to Oklahoma Gazette. “As a state, we have made progress in the areas of prevention and have nationally recognized programs that address children’s behavioral health and criminal justice diversion. It will be difficult to regain momentum once services are lost.”

That is why the production is vital during this time, Jordan said.

“At CityRep, as a service organization, we try to function by the Oklahoma Standard,” Jordan said. “We try to raise the bar for that standard for our community, our friends and our neighbors. I believe in the power of theater to change lives and, in this case, to actually save a life.”

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Mark Beutler

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