Unlike going to the movies, it's more difficult (and more expensive) to see a play twice. But the replacement of Ann Guilbert with Mercedes McCambridge in " at Arena's Kreeger Theater (through December 8) may provide the reason to revisit this shattering drama. Those who have already seen it will have a rare chance to see how an individual actor can affect a play; those who haven't yet seen it will get a superb performance.
In Marsha Norman's Pulitzer-winning drama, Thelma Cate's weary daughter Jessie announces one evening that she will kill herself that night, after setting things in order with her mother. What follows is an emotional tug-of-war, as the women wrestle with family history and the reasons and realities of suicide.
Guilbert, who left due to illness, was an affecting Thelma, frail and frantic. Though her lines are the same, McCambridge is another woman entirely, more solidly maternal, closer to the slow-moving, sweets-addicted farm woman Norman scripted. It seems a different play -- in her journey from bovine placidity to desperation, McCambridge gets laughs and tears in different places, and seems to add more challenging weight to play against, bringing out depths in Halo Wines' Jessie.