Theater: ‘night, Mother

"'night, Mother"

A supposedly normal evening in the mother-daughter household is shattered when Jessie announces to her mother Thelma that she plans to kill herself before the night is over. The play happens in real time. Over the course of 90 minutes, Thelma desperately works to convince her daughter that life is worth living.

I didn’t know anything about ‘night, Mother when I came to watch it. I was told only two things: the actors were phenomenal and the story was ‘heavy.’ While waiting to get in the theater, my friend informed me that there was going to be a trigger-warning at the start of the production. Which, I admit, scared me.

Theater has always been an escape for me. More than television, more than movies or even books, it’s theater that allows me to let my mind loose. This is why I have a preference for musicals. Bright, loud, happy musicals that present a simple problem that they then resolve with a dozen or so songs. Sure there would be crying, some time’s there’s righteous indignation, but the end is almost always the same: you are given a semblance of a solution. You will be made to think, but you will also have closure.

Plays aren’t always as considerate.

‘night, Mother revolves around the relationship of one daughter with her mother–and, as the synopsis above says, her plan to kill herself before the night ends. Her matter-of-fact announcement is actually what jump starts the whole play. And ‘heavy’ is an understatement for the ninety minutes that follow her announcement.

But what makes ‘night, Mother heavy? Why is there a need for a trigger warning, and why are there mental health specialists at the end of the production to help the audience process what happens in the play?

The material was written in the early 80s. As shared by director Melvin Lee, ‘night, Mother was first produced in 1982. Back then, the daughter’s planned suicide is an inciting incident–not the focal point of the play. True enough, while watching, it is not the suicide that moves you from one emotion to another: it’s the relationship between the two characters.

There are many ways to read the play. Director Lee posits that it’s about two different mind sets, two generations trying to stay relevant in each other’s lives and failing. The difference is while one point-of-view is remaining stubborn and steadfast, the other is ready to throw in the towel. My own take is that it’s a commentary on societal expectations; that it scrutinizes the way other people want us to behave, as opposed to who we actually are.

The suicide as a symbol can be read as giving up–but it can also be about taking back power. It really depends on where you stand in society: are you the one making decisions and maintaining hierarchy? Or are you part of the generation that wants to break out of the box?

But, again as Director Lee points out, something has changed in the last almost forty years. In the last five years alone, actually. People are more aware about mental health issues now. And suddenly, the surface drama of a person committing suicide isn’t just a symbolism anymore. It’s a very real possibility. And this is what’s pushes the conversations about the production.

Sure, actresses Eugene Domingo and Sherry Lara are both astounding. The set design by Ben Padero is exceptional. And TJ Ramos provides a haunting tone that you don’t actually notice until the end, which means he did spectacular work. So many people should be getting recognition with PETA’s adaptation of Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother, and yet everyone is talking about only one aspect of the play:

Suicide. And depression, in connection to it.

Those are not topics I’m qualified to talk about, let’s be real. They are subjects that I, admittedly, have had thoughts about. But the bottom line is this: I’m not a specialist. I’m not an expert. I’m someone online who has read things about the two, who may have depression and is dealing with it. That still doesn’t mean I can write about these things in a way that would be of comfort to those who also deal with them.

So here’s my advice: talk to someone about it. Find help. Here in the Philippines, we supposedly have a suicide prevention hotline (+632 804-4673) but don’t rely on just that. Google for counselors near your area. Risk opening up to a trusted friend.

Beat the stigma.

Being depressed and having suicidal thoughts doesn’t make you any less of a person. You matter.

Going back to ‘night, Mother, if you think you can handle a play that deals with suicide and a person’s thought process in ending her life, then catch the final weekend of the play today (March 16) until Sunday (March 18, 2018) at the PETA Theater in Quezon City. Then stay, after the play, to talk about your concerns–or to listen to other people’s experiences.

Be open.

Book: Voices in the Theater

"Voices in the Theater"

Ever since her grandmother died, Samantha Davidson has been carrying a secret: She can hear voices–other people’s thoughts, some from the living, some from the dead.

Plucked from her roots and transported to another country, estranged from her family and friends, Sam joins a pioneering club in her new school that investigates paranormal activities.

As they examine the mystery behind a haunted theater inside the university, Sam starts to hear voices from those that are no longer earthbound.

Will she heed their voices as they accuse her of a dark secret she has buried deep in the past? Or will she surrender to the light offered by newfound allies and a love that caught her by surprise?

Will the many voices drown out the one voice she has long suppressed? Will she listen?

If I’m to be objective, there is nothing wrong with A.S. Santos’s Voices in the Theater. The plot is good and well-paced, and although some decisions made by the characters make me want to tear my hair out, I understand their choices are organic and not pushed by the hand of the author. There is really nothing bad to be said about the book–

But I still didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing: Voices in the Theater is marketed to be a horror novel. From its back synopsis, to its book cover, to the first few chapters– The story is clearly set-up to be a horror novel that deals with ghosts and unresolved issues. And I was fully on board with that. What I didn’t like was the sudden turn for the religious.

I mean, I completely understand having religious characters. The setting is the Philippines, characters are bound to be non-practicing Christians at the very least. And you can’t really take out religion when you’re dealing with ghosts and the afterlife. They come hand in hand.

Still, the book presents the main character as religiously neutral. Our entry point into the supernatural is science-based. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. And I felt like the story, and the writer, forced the main character into a religion by the end of the book.

The thing is: I would totally understand the religious deus ex machina had there been more visual cues from the way the book was published or presented. Going back to what happens in the story, there’s really nothing there that explicitly says the book wasn’t going to go the religious note. And aside from the first few chapters that established the back story of main character Samantha, the rest of the book does establish the necessity of faith.

But the turn to the religion still threw me off.

It could just be my fault for expecting something else. For wanting something else. It’s just… I’m not the book’s target market. And I wish I knew this fact before I bought the book. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a warning before I delved into the book expecting a horror story. That could have spelled the difference in how I received the novel after finishing it.

Book: This is Where the World Ends

"This is Where the World Ends"

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been since they were children, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship–as long as no one finds out about it.

Is it racist if I say that I expected this book to be about race? No, not because of the author’s lineage. I read the synopsis and thought: “oh, okay. People frown upon their friendship because they’re not the same race.” Or, at the very least, because of wide difference in their social stature. Is one of them poor who only got into a private school because of a scholarship?

It’s neither of those things. The only reason no one can find out about Janie and Micah being friends is because Janie wanted that to be the case. Seriously. It’s…disappointing.

This is Where the World Ends has a nice hook, with two points of view spiraling from a catalyst, an event so big that it ends the world as they know it. Janie’s point of view shows us what their world is like before the “big event,” while Micah takes us through the aftermath. Which is a great idea, because it gives the novel and extra layer of suspense. But if you take out the gimmick, This is Where the World Ends reads like a half-baked John Green novel. One he wrote before The Fault in Our Stars.

Janie is a manic pixie dream girl. She’s the dream girl of the unpopular boy who has issues. She’s not a sympathetic character until she is changed by an event. Not the big event, no. Not yet, at least. But she is changed. And you see the potential in exploring this change. But author Zhang doesn’t explore that. Janie becomes more reserved, which is understandable. What I don’t understand is why Zhang doesn’t allow us in either.

Janie’s smaller event is more heart-breaking, more life-changing, and more powerful. The “big event” is an afterthought, a way to mark the beginning and the end. It doesn’t have the power to destroy a life. Not like Janie’s more personal and more intimate tragedy.

Because Janie gets raped. And it doesn’t get discussed. Not to the other characters, until one of them admits to feeling guilty. Not to the readers, until Micah needed to reach a breakthrough. And not to the protagonists. And, putting the book down, I thought–what was the point of writing a novel that doesn’t do anything but just put to paper something that can happen… Something that happens.

I know of people who do not like Thirteen Reasons Why because of its subject matter and its handling, and I get their point. But juxtaposed with This is Where the World Ends, I feel like Thirteen Reasons Why tackles the subject of rape and suicide better. Not because we get to confront the crime, or how the victim processes the event, but because it doesn’t pretend to know more. Thirteen Reasons Why had us following the perspective of someone who had no idea, and who blamed himself for not doing more.

Micah, in This is Where the World Ends, blocks from his memory every bad thing he doesn’t like. And he only uncorks when there is need to finish the story. When the book calls for catharsis. And by then, it feels like a cheat. It feels like the book only put the rape in so that the book would have a statement, and not be just another outcast and manic pixie dream girl young adult romance.

And that is not okay.

This is Where the World Ends could have been something more. Amy Zhang is an amazing writer. So amazing that she was able to make me continue reading, even when my brain keeps telling me that it does not like where the story is going. I loved her imagery, and her use of fairy tales. The gimmick of the before-and-after accounts, as I already mentioned, is a nice hook. And all of these are also the reasons why it’s so disappointing for me that the book dropped the ball on what counts the most: the treatment of its chosen subject.

Book: How to Fall in Love

"How to Fall in Love"

Adam Basil and Christine Rose are thrown together late one night, when Christine is crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. Adam is there, poised, threatening to jump.

Adam is desperate–but Christine makes a crazy deal with him. His 35th birthday is looming and she bets him that before then she can show him that life is worth living.

Against the ticking of the clock, the two of them embark on wild escapades, grand romantic gestures and some unlikely late-night outings. Slowly, Christine thinks Adam is starting to fall back in love with his life. But is that all that’s starting to happen?

How does one fall in love?

Completely.

Utterly.

Without warning.

That’s what happened to me while reading Cecelia Ahern’s most recent book. I fell completely and utterly in love–without expecting it. Because, to be quite frank, I found the first few chapters of this book a chore to plod through. But I fought on. Because the premise intrigued me. How do you convince someone who wants to kill their self that life is worth living still?

Apparently, the answer is by living life with them.

Ahern is a master storyteller in this book, weaving the intricate patterns of a realistic love story without losing sight of who her characters are.

Both Adam and Christine are flawed characters. They have issues. And throughout the course of their story, their issues develop with them. Ahern doesn’t employ the magic of love in her story–she tackles the reality head on by having her characters address the fact that, even in love, they cannot change their very core in an instant just because they wanted to.

But what made me fall in love with Ahern’s book isn’t just the realistic approach it has about love between two people with issues. It’s how it tackles the distinction between falling in love, and falling in love with love. And it deals with the repercussions of every action the characters make.

Still, the book isn’t perfect. It holds back one particular information that changes how we see the characters. Specifically, how we see Christine. An information which I feel would’ve enriched the character had it been shared much earlier.

Because I don’t think this withheld information would change the trajectory of the characters’ stories. In fact, I believe that it would make the story much more satisfying for the readers, because you get to understand Christine’s motives from the get go. And you appreciate her actions more.

Even with this game-changing secret though, I still fell in love with the book. Which, I guess, is also the lesson the book wants to convey: you only know you’re in love with someone when you accept their faults–even before you find out the reason for them.

And I accept the faults of this book. Because, at the end of it all, it tells a beautiful story about life, love, and accepting your lot in life.

Now, go and find a copy of How to Fall in Love. Buy it or borrow it. Read it.

If you’re still on the fence about the book, then you can always read what other people have written about the book. To help you decide:
Chloe’s Chick Lit Reviews
I Heart… Chick Lit
Novelicious

Book: Crash Into Me

"Crash Into Me"

Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae have one thing in common: They all want to die. When they meet online after each attempts suicide and fails, they made a deadly pact: They will escape together on a summer road trip to visit the sites of celebrity suicides…and at their final destination, they will do themselves in.

As they drive cross-country, bonding over their dark impusles, sharing their deepest secrets and desires, living it up, hooking up, and becoming true friends, each must decide whether life is worth living–or if there’s no turning back.

Right from the start, I decided to believe that all the characters would survive in the end. It’s just how these type of novels go. It’s either your character is already dead and they’re just recounting life before they did themselves in, or something will happen to change their minds about killing themselves. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Imagine my surprise when, as three characters become better people, one of them start to spiral deeper into unexplicable depression. It’s a great twist. It keeps the reader guessing. It kept me guessing if maybe I was wrong and there will, at least, be one casualty.

But the keyword to that statement is ‘inexplicable.’

There’s a twist. There always is one, nowadays. But the thing with twists is, they have to be earned. This one doesn’t earn it. I mean, the writer obviously knew he was going to drop the twist somewhere in the story–but it doesn’t fit. It feels forced. Tacked on. And the bad thing is, you also know that it’s part of one character’s history. An integral part that was purposefully held back just to surprise the viewers.

I hated it.

Not the twist. The twist is fine. I hate the fact that the author held back on it. He should’ve built up on it. No, I don’t mean put in clues. Voracious readers would be able to latch on to those and the twist wouldn’t make as big an impact to them. But in terms of how the characters relate to each other, talk to each other; let the omissions and the hesitations speak; let the fears show; and, let the readers feel what the character is supposed to be feeling.

Crash Into Me is a good book. Was a good book. It’s not completely original; but the story was solid and the characters, though they may not always be likeable, at least they’re relatable. It’s the twist near the end that completely ruins it for me.

But that’s just me. Head on to what other blogs have to say about the book, maybe they liked it better than I did. Here’s a few:
Read, Read, Read
A Good Addiction
Chick Loves Lit