Lugar lang | A matter of where I’d rather be

IF I were Jessie in Marsha Norman’s play, ‘night, Mother, I would kill myself, too. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983, and I have been waiting to see it on stage since I read it in college. So when the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) announced that they were mounting it starring award-winning actors Eugene Domingo and Sherry Lara, I booked my flight to Manila and bought a ticket immediately. This was a moment of sheer clarity, not impulsiveness. It felt like a reward for my nearly three decades of teaching literature. That I’ve been a huge fan of Sherry Lara since PETA’s productions of Harold Pinter in Fort Santiago was only the olive in my long-awaited martini.

Needless to say, my expectations were high and I had no doubt that PETA would deliver. Ian Lomongo’s Filipino adaptation hewed closely to the original, only contemporizing some details for present-day Philippines and providing appropriate cultural equivalents for American references, e.g. buko pandan for caramel apples. And with such talented and intelligent actors, am certain Director Melvin Lee had a blast. The show was riveting and moving, but also allowed breathing space with its dark humor. One would think a play about suicide would be harrowing, but the writing of Norman is so complex, it instead makes the viewer introspective. It did me.

Using the classic Aristotelian structure of unities—space, time, and action—the play also gives the audience the pleasure of two characters who are a ‘unity of opposites’, set up to destroy each other in a situation where compromise is impossible. The dramatic question is simple: ‘Will she or won’t she?’ And the end gives us the answer clearly, with all the factors covered in a climactic structure that leaves no ambiguity about its inevitability. Of course, Jessie kills herself. Her mother could not have stopped her. No, neither could you. That is what the shot stands for. In the play, it is described as, “it sounds like an answer, it sounds like No.”

After the play, PETA allows fifteen minutes for a discussion (really a debriefing) with the director, the writer, and a psychologist, who try to give more insights about suicide prevention. On the show that we watched, a member of the audience shared that his friend had committed suicide two weeks ago, and the play helped him understand his own feelings about it. Director Lee noted that PETA did decide to mount ‘night, Mother’ because of the rising cases of suicide in the Philippines. It seems more relevant now than in the ‘80s or the ‘90s. The guest psychologist emphasized the importance of bringing suicidal persons to experts for proper counseling because they are trained to deal with it. While friends and family must pay attention and provide empathy, depression is an illness that must be treated by professionals.

In the play, Jessie’s mother tries every tactic to convince her not to commit suicide, but we know Jessie is resolute. She has thought about it on and off for the past ten years and is now finally giving up—but in the sense of “I’ve had enough.” She says it’s like riding a bus and deciding to get off now because you don’t want to travel the next 50 blocks to get to your destination. It makes sense. Especially if you don’t feel like the destination is worth getting to anyway.

I get it. I’ve thought about it a few times myself. Who wants to keep going if there’s nothing to look forward to because you’ve tried everything to feel better and it still feels like nothing? As Jessie explains, “So it’s really just a matter of where I’d rather be.”

Under normal circumstances, we can talk ourselves out of the blues. I tell myself, “All government positions have term limits,” and I am able to get up from bed in the morning and live to fight another day. I look at my children, my partner, and the home we have created together and know that I have so much to look forward to. But the mind of a truly suicidal person listens only to its own reasons.

Jessie suggests, “maybe if there was something I really liked, like maybe if I really liked rice pudding…that might be enough.” That’s what I’d like to focus on for now (although the play as a whole doesn’t provide hope). Let’s try to find something we still want to have one more time on another day, something we really like. How about making a list?

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz



Posted in Opinion