'Mary Gets Hers' review — ensemble play entertains and frustrates
Read our review of Emma Horwitz's Mary Gets Hers, presented off Broadway by The Playwrights Realm at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space through October 7.
There is a lot of irony in Mary Gets Hers, a new play by Emma Horwitz running at MCC Theater in a Playwrights Realm production. It is ironic to stage a play about a raging plague that “turned people into foam” a few years after the theatre industry shut down because of Covid-19. Horwitz seems to revel in this irony, showing off the tongue-in-cheek sadness of the child Mary (Haley Wong) and, later, her more frank devastation. It is also ironic, however, that Mary Gets Hers gives us no reason to root for the title character beyond pitying her childhood circumstances.
Years after the death of her parents, Mary does not appear to have any desires beyond wanting them back – a reasonable wish for a real child, but not a compelling one for a protagonist. Most of the other characters are fleshed out with hopes, fears, insecurities, and ambitions, like the religious hermit Abraham (Susannah Perkins), who wants to prove himself to God and his mentor by procuring a pure virgin child for the abbey. Ephraim (Octavia Chavez-Richmond), his mentor, has arguments with God that form the core of the show’s heart. Chavez-Richmond’s balance of adroit humor and desperate supplication is a highlight that endears Ephraim to the audience.
Mary bemoans later that men who come from far and wide to, ahem, admire her beauty only love the image of her, like a hermit worships an icon. But Mary is just an idea in this loose adaptation of Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim’s Abraham, or the Fall and Repentance of Mary, running around in search of meaning.
Despite these character conundrums, Mary is still an enjoyable show imbued with theatricality (tedious as it may get when, like Mary, you just want the hermits to stop singing). Spooky choreography lends the production a heightened air of near-Expressionism as the ensemble acts out Abraham’s nightmare of Mary’s worldly defilement. Lighting cues from Cha See further up the tension in Josiah Davis’s adept and entertaining production. But pantomime of invisible horses and hymns with all the lyrics replaced with “God” can only hold so much weight, and a repetition of lines that at first feels clever soon overstays its welcome.
You have to learn to love yourself “when everyone you love dies in a plague, there is no one to love you,” Mary croons like a disco diva at the end of the show, though we have no indication that she learned this lesson – certainly not through her near-instant forgiveness of Abraham, whom she had detested moments before for his meddling. Mary Gets Hers tells us of such developments much more than showing them, although the showing, such as through dance, is much more interesting.
The ensemble’s worship of Mary might land if the character had more life or if Wong played her with more than one petulant note. As it stands, Mary Gets Hers is instead a production worth seeing for the achievements of its other characters.
Photo credit: Haley Wong and Claire Siebers in Mary Gets Hers. (Photo by Daniel J Vasquez Productions)
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