'Pre-Existing Condition' review — Marin Ireland’s play takes an honest look at domestic violence

Read our review of Pre-Existing Condition off Broadway, currently starring Tatiana Maslany and featuring a rotating cast of leads at the Connelly Theater.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

The script in the hands of A (Tatiana Maslany), the protagonist of Marin Ireland’s play Pre-Existing Condition, is a convention of director Maria Dizzia. Maslany’s performance in the show (which is set to rotate between Deirdre O'Connell, Tavi Gevinson, Dizzia, and Julia Chan as A later in the run) is unique. However, the script reminds the audience that the character's situation is not.

We learn that 1 in 3 woman are victims of intimate partner violence. A didn’t think she was the kind of woman whose boyfriend would hit her; she thought those women were “trash,” that they were in some other unlucky category of life that wouldn’t overlap with her own. At the end of the play, A leaves the script on the floor, ready for the next unfortunate soul who needs it.

Maslany’s performance is raw as others claw at her skin throughout the show, her half-formed answers to questions bleeding out of her. When A tells one date her last boyfriend hit her, he sarcastically chides her, “What’d you do?” Lawyers tell her there’s not enough money at stake to take her case, and mutual friends plead that her ex feels really bad about it all.

No one spouts cliches like "you should have left him" or "you asked for it," but they don’t have to; she still feels it. Her therapists (Dael Orlandersmith and Sarah Steele, who bounces among characters with dexterity) tell her as much in suffocating group sessions. The sessions are made lighter for the audience when Orlandersmith and Steele respond to invisible participants with emphatic nods and “mmm-hmm”s, but there is no relief for A — only exhaustion.

It is impossible to disentangle Ireland’s play from her publicized experiences of intimate partner violence, as it dives headfirst into the thorns of fighting back against your abuser. In Pre-Existing Condition, A admits to a friend that before her ex hit her, she slapped him. “I reached up and tried to slap him,” she says. “I couldn’t… land it.”

“I guess to me it’s violence no matter who does it,” A’s friend says, curt on the phone. “I think it can be different,” A grinds out. “When women hit. Sometimes. In a situation where the power is severely out of balance. Sometimes they do it to try to get some back.”

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Pre-Existing Condition summary

Pre-Existing Condition follows A, an otherwise unidentified woman who recently experience violence at the hands of an ex-boyfriend. Throughout the play, she struggles not only to reconcile this reality, but to tell her friends (Sarah Steele), her mother, and men she dates (Greg Keller, though I saw the fantastic understudy Gregory Connors) who react with differing assurances that they would never hit a woman.

She seeks the advice of therapists as well as lawyers, who dismiss her for the lack of financial stakes in her potential case. One friend tries to cajole A into forgiving her ex, accusing A of wanting to “ruin his life.”

What to expect at Pre-Existing Condition

Pre-Existing Condition is a play about intimate partner violence and dealing with the aftermath of assault. It depicts things like group and individual therapy for survivors of violence and discusses how survivors tell their friends, family, and new romantic partners about their past experiences. The characters also discuss the details of physical violence. Audience members with sensitivities to these issues should may have difficulty at the show.

The play’s program contains information about the National Domestic Violence Hotline and New York’s Safe Horizons. It also advises audiences about the 333 rule for managing anxiety and triggers during the performance.

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What audiences are saying about Pre-Existing Condition

Audiences at Pre-Existing Condition are praising the show's performances and emotional honesty.

  • Playwright Kate Hamill called Pre-Existing Condition “one of the most honest, meaningful, beautiful” pieces of theatre she’s ever seen via X.
  • X user @jdpalmatier1016 expressed appreciation for the way Pre-Existing Condition “walks through the stages of healing.”
  • On the theatre tracking and reviewing app Mezzanine, user Aimee praised Tatiana Maslany's performance, while user Jason_BE called the show "stunning."

Who should see Pre-Existing Condition

  • Fans of the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy will enjoy seeing star Marin Ireland’s playwriting talents.
  • Fans of Maria Dizzia’s acting work will welcome her turn as a director.
  • Though Pre-Existing Condition tackles hard topics to stomach, anyone looking for an honest, unafraid portrayal of intimate partner violence will appreciate its achievements.

Learn more about Pre-Existing Condition off Broadway

Pre-Existing Condition is an unfiltered examination of how violence imprints itself on the body and soul. Its rotating cast of stars will only make the experience of seeing Ireland’s play even more unique.

Learn more and get Pre-Existing Condition tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Pre-Existing Condition is at the Connelly Theater through August 3.

Photo credit: Pre-Existing Condition off Broadway. (Photos by Emilio Madrid)

Originally published on

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