Thelma doesn't believe it at first, but her matter-of-fact daughter, Jessie, isn't kidding. She wants to die. She plans to die, on this exact Saturday night. It's inevitable and unstoppable.
Marsha Norman's Pulitzer Prize-winning 'night, Mother, onstage at Ion Theatre's BLKBOX space in Hillcrest, is an anguished, penetrating battle of wills between two women growing more and more desperate as each ominous minute after Jessie's suicidal proclamation passes. Yolanda Franklin (as Jessie) and Sylvia M'Lafi Thompson (as Thelma) are entirely captivating in this one-act directed by Ion's Glenn Paris. In the tight confines of the small theater, you're immersed in Jessie's overwhelming despondency (she's given up on life, whether her mother likes it or not) and in intimate proximity to Thelma's fears and recriminations. But so deadly tense is the atmosphere created by Paris' directorial hand and by Franklin's and, especially, Thompson's performances that you never know when to brace yourself for the shock of resolution.
Ion's 'night, Mother is sad yet not ignorable. It runs through Feb. 7 at the BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. $15-$33. iontheatre.com
Gunmetal Blues' storyline is dopey and derivative. You've got the requisite hardboiled shamus in the well-worn trench coat, the familiar leggy blonde who walks in mystery and a wise cracking piano player who goes by the self-deprecating name of Buddy Toupee. Ho-frigging-hum.
It's the presence of a few thoughtful ballads by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler, like "Childhood Days" and "I'm the One that Got Away," that provide just enough sophistication to elevate this North Coast Rep offering above what otherwise might feel like dinner-theater fare. This Scott Wentworth-penned spoof of noir private-dick movies has been around since 1992 and somehow is still going strong. I guess it will continue as long as we keep romanticizing the tropes of an increasingly wearisome genre.
All that said, Gunmetal Blues, directed by Andrew Barnicle, does showcase a talented three-person musical ensemble (Matt Best, Tom Versen and Fred Ubaldo Jr.) and a leggy blonde (Sharon Rietkerk) who can really belt 'em out.
Gunmetal Blues runs through Feb. 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $54 and up. northcoastrep.org
The Grift at the Lafayette Hotel: Director Tom Salamon's latest immersive theater experience takes audiences in and out of various rooms and other spaces inside one of San Diego's coolest hotels. Presented by La Jolla Playhouse, it opens Jan. 27 at the Lafayette Hotel in University Heights. lajollaplayhouse.org
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an "amazing" garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it opens Jan. 23 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Louis & Irving: The Movie Moguls: A staged reading of a play about Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg and the beginnings of MGM Studios. It opened Jan. 16 and runs through Jan. 25 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Murder for Two: In this musical, one actor plays a detective, and another plays 10 different people who are suspected of murdering a famous novelist during his birthday party. Opens Jan. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Plays by Young Writers: The Playwrights Project presents four full produc- tions and four staged readings of plays written by local kids ranging in age from 12 to 18. It runs Jan. 22 through Feb. 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Several dates are already sold out; seats remain available for programs on Jan. 23, 24, 30 and 31 and Feb. 1. playwrightsproject.org
Trouble in Mind: In 1955, black actors struggle with their roles in a Broadway play-within-a-play that's produced and directed by white men. Opens Jan. 23 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Wuthering Heights: A staged reading of an adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic 1847 novel. Presented by New Fortune Theatre Company, it happens on Jan. 26 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Annie Jr.: California Youth Conservatory Theatre presents the young-folks version of the musical about the orphan girl who, amid her desperate search for her parents, melts the heart of a stuffy rich guy. Through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Steal Heaven: Famed activist Abbie Hoffman is in Heaven, running a boot camp for dead radicals who want to head back to Earth to be effective change agents. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Jan. 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
The Lion in Winter: King Henry II summons his previously imprisoned wife and his three sons to decide who'll wear the crown next. Through Feb. 1 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
'night Mother: Last November, Ion Theatre produced a staged reading of this play about a divorced, epileptic woman whose life is a mess and she wants to end it. Now it's back as a full production. Through Feb. 7 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Gunmetal Blues: By-the-numbers film-noir parody gets the musical treatment. Through Feb. 8 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Steel Magnolias: A newly married young diabetic and the question of whether she should have a baby are the focal points of a play about the friendship of a group of women in Louisiana. Through Feb. 8 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Wrong Window: In a madcap send-up of Alfred Hitchcock, a man finds his neighbor's dead body in his closet. Through Feb. 8 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest: A rabble-rouser fakes mental illness in order to serve his sentence in a hospital rather than prison. It doesn't end well. Through Feb. 14 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Sons of the Prophet: In this Pulitzer Prize finalist, a gay adult Lebanese immigrant living in Pennsylvania must care for his younger brother and ailing uncle in the wake of his father's sudden death. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Tribute: An actor is diagnosed with leukemia, prompting him to attempt to resolve his troubled relationship with his son. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Feb. 15 at the Legler Benbough Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me: Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net