The Testament of Mary

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 1, 2013

    Sometimes it is easier to review something I didn’t like. There are always words for that. But when I see a show that is takes me out of this world, it is a challenge to find words for that.

    So let’s cut to the chase. Do yourself the favor of the decade and go see this show. This is a story and a performance that are beyond spectacular.

    And it all starts with the word. Colm Tóibín has written a book from which this play has been mined. It is a spare and direct accounting of a mother whose son chose to be a targeted man rather than keep his mouth shut and live a long life.

    This Mary is not the mild mannered icon that Christianity, and the Catholic Church n particular, has given us. This is not the beatific frozen woman draped in clean flowing blue garb and standing vigil to the side of the altar, or the woman in repose after childbirth (not a messy business for her, certainly) receiving visitors in a barn, or the delicate and mute doll-like form who holds her oddly mature infant on her lap in holy perpetuity. Not this woman.

    This is a woman in a rage that will not be quieted. Her rage moves through her like a virus, and she can barely stay still for more than a minute or so. She roams the stage like a lioness searching for the scent of a cub. She will not be still or settled. She will not be mollified by her keepers (presumably the apostles) who tell her that by keeping the story and the memory of her son alive they will change the world. Mary responds: The world? All of it?

    Her memories rush through her like a mad river. Her son (she will not speak his name) gathered around him a bunch of misfits only children like him, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye, men who were seen smiling to themselves. May had no truck with these men. Actually she was bored by them, as well as the way that her son behaved around them.

    She objected to her son’s recklessness for it would lead to catastrophe. But when he left her to walk with his companions she did nothing. There was nothing to do. She lived on rumors and reports of the miracles – the crippled made to walk, the blind to see – as well as the danger coming closer. Her son was being followed, and his demise was being fomented.

    After one final attempt to warn him at the wedding at Cana, where Lazarus was raised from the dead (not very successful that) and water turned into wine, she left him. She returned for the crucifixion, not to warn or comfort but to witness. And when the danger for her own life became too great, she left his side.

    This is a mother who chose life and is living in the land of remembering. She will not be stilled into a homogenized silence. She will storm and fill the heavens with her voice. And in the end, she will not give sway to the men who would create her son’s story. She will not trade myth for her memory.

    The combination of Tóibín and Shaw is electrifying. Deborah Warner’s direction keeps Shaw peripatetic – and there are some questions as to the myriad of props she works through, picking them up and putting them down in one endless motion. As well there is the now famous vulture that seems to serve no purpose. If you get there early enough you are allowed onto the set to view the icon herself which achieved the desired effect of making Mary into flesh even before the play began.

    So yes there are details that don’t quite work, but these pale in comparison to the union of Shaw and this text. This is a breathtaking event.

    I was transfixed. I was shattered. I was exhilarated. I was bursting with life.

    I was reminded again why I return to the theatre for nourishment over and over and over again.

    "It doesn’t quite work."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Fiona Shaw ignites and glows with a fevered intensity and intelligence in this bold and indelibly theatrical work."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Shaw is a forceful presence. This is her show, her moment."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Mary is seen smoking joints of marijuana and swigging from a commercially labeled liquor bottle. None of these things are in the printed script, and they begin to feel so calculated and intellectualized that an airlessness pervades the proceedings."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "It's a performance that emphasizes the theatricality and imaginative power of Toibin's story."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Harrowing theatrical monologue"
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "The matchless Fiona Shaw commands the stage."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Hollywood Reporter - Variety