When the curtain rises on Marsha Norman’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, ‘nght, Mother, it is eight o’clock on a typical Saturday night; and Jessie Cates (Raleigh Little Theatre preschool drama teacher Martie Todd Sirois) is in a swivet, furiously straightening up the messy living room and kitchen of the isolated country home that she shares with her indolent widowed mother, Thelma Cates (RLT youth theater and education director Linda O’Day Young). Jessie is cleaning and decluttering like there is no tomorrow — and for her, there isn’t. After 10 increasingly lonely, unhappy years as an unemployed divorced single mother who cannot keep a man or hold onto a job because of her daunting physical and emotional problems, Jessie has bought a brand-new box of bullets for her long-dead father’s old six-shooter, which she plans to employ later that night to put herself out of her misery.

But first Jessie has to tell her mama that this is the last contentious, uncomfortable night that they will spend picking at each other. Desperately playing for time, Mama unpacks a whole closet full of family skeletons in hopes that she can convince Jessie to change her mind and dissuade her from taking her own life. After a slow start this past Sunday afternoon, Linda O’Day Young grabbed the character of Thelma by the throat and ran with it. Martie Todd Sirois proved a perfect foil as the world-weary Jessie, whose misery and frustration is compounded when her ne’er-do-well teenage son breaks into the house to steal her jewelry to sell so he can buy drugs.

Under the sure-handed direction of Jesse R. Gephart, Young’s Thelma and Sirois’ Jessie truly become tragic figures; and the anguish of a mother — even a bad mother — who cannot convince her daughter to step back from the edge of the abyss is truly harrowing.

The show’s magnificently detailed set, complete with a pulldown folding ladder to the Cates’ cluttered attic and a working kitchen sink and appliances, is one of RLT scenic designer Rick Young’s very finest creations; and lighting designer Jim Zervas helps keep the audience’s attention right where it should be. The Sunday-matinee performance of this wrenching mother-daughter drama earned a standing ovation that will no doubt be echoed throughout the remainder of the show’s three-week run, which resumes Sept. 18-21 and 25-28 in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre.

See the CVNC Openings calendar for details. Please note that performances begin at 8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows.