When Marsha Norman’s play “ ‘night, Mother” opens at the Mark Taper Forum on March 27, 1986, Los Angeles audiences will be among the last to see the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a young woman’s suicide.
Since the play first opened on Broadway in March, 1983, it has played in 30 countries and dozens of U.S cities. Movie rights are currently being negotiated, with Sissy Spacek likely to star in the film version.
In such cities as Seattle, producers obtained production rights through the author and her agent and mounted their own productions over the past year or so. Among them: Seattle Repertory Theatre, Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, Houston’s Alley Theatre and Miami Beach’s Coconut Grove Playhouse.
Meanwhile, tour packagers American Theatre Productions sent the two-character drama on a national blitz of Lubbock, Tex., Urbana, Ill., Hershey, Pa., and 29 other cities between September, 1984, and February, 1985. But the touring production, which starred Mercedes McCambridge, didn’t include such major U.S. theater centers as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles.
Those cities had been put off limits by the show’s Broadway producers, chief among them Dann Byck, Marsha Norman’s husband. Byck and associates had tied up rights to the six major U.S. markets because they had plans to mount a first-class tour of their own.
After the show closed on Broadway in spring, 1984, explains agent Sam (Biff) Liff at William Morris Agency, the show’s producers began assembling a tour to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. A number of Los Angeles theater companies expressed interest in mounting their own productions, says Liff, but the producers kept holding off until they could package a tour to the other five cities, in order to attract major stars to play in the show.
That six-city tour never happened, however. “It was basically a situation of not being able to put together a tour the way we wanted to do it,” says Byck. “We ultimately came to the conclusion that our investors would be best served by releasing the play to the major regional theaters in those cities.”
That’s exactly what happened. Besides the Taper, says Liff, Washington’s Arena Stage, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre and Chicago’s Wisdom Bridge Theater are also expected to produce the play this season.
Liff says the show’s producers had discussed possible deals with L.A. Stage Company as well as with the Taper. But he indicates that the Taper clearly had the inside track: “Marsha has a good working relationship with (Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum artistic director) Gordon Davidson, and he directed (Norman’s) ‘Traveler in the Dark.’ ”
In this case, Davidson says he doesn’t think it’s “necessarily bad that Los Angeles had to wait this long, because we will be doing a production with the original director, Tom Moore.”