‘Mary’ is an insult to theatergoers, cast
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org February 15, 2011 5:36PM
♦ Through March 6
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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Maybe Thomas Bradshaw’s world premiere play “Mary,” which was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre and received its world premiere on the Owen stage there Monday, is meant to be a complete and total hoax designed to see just now much hokum and bunkum today’s theater audiences might be willing to tolerate before rebelling.
I truly hope this is the case, but I fear it is not. And so, what we have here is not a subversive test, but simply one of the most thuddingly bad satires about race and homophobia ever perpetrated.
An equal-opportunity insult machine, “Mary” should not only raise the hackles on the necks of blacks, white, gays, conservatives, liberals, Christians and any other easily labeled “group,” but it also should be taken as a personal insult to the intelligence of that most worthy of all congregations — the actors and playgoers who join hands in the theater in the name of enlightenment and entertainment.
Bradshaw’s previous work has garnered hyperbolic quotes from the New York culturati, so perhaps his earlier plays are better. But this one (directed with matching heavy-handedness by May Adrales), is a travesty of a mockery of a sham.
Here is the long and short of this (interminable) 85-minute work: It is 1983 (the early days of the AIDS crisis), and David (Alex Weisman), a gay college sophomore not yet formally “out” to his parents, has invited his Chicago-bred boyfriend Jonathan (Eddie Bennett) to his family’s posh home (a former plantation) in Maryland.
David’s dad, James (Scott Jaeck), retired from the Defense Department, is thinking about chronicling his prostate cancer ordeal on Phil Donahue’s talk show while his mom, Dolores (Barbara Garrick), has just given her husband an appliance designed to correct his erectile dysfunction.
Mom also is perfectly at ease using the “n” word in front of the family’s illiterate black cook-housekeeper Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) and her husband, Elroy (Cedric Young); the couple accepts it as the norm. Mary and Elroy live with the family in an arrangement bordering on indentured servitude, yet both seem more or less content with that, too.
David, somewhat provoked by Jonathan, begins to realize what a racist existence he has long been part of, so he begins to confront his mother, especially when she goes on about founding an Old South Living Museum.
Meanwhile, Mary, who wants to do her biblical duty and save David from his homosexuality, prods her husband to shoot Jonathan in the genitals with a BB gun, as this will remind him he is involved in the devil’s work.
Need I say more? I doubt it, though there is plenty to be said. As for the little “twist” of an ending, which unspools decades later (after Mary has earned a college degree in theology), it in no way redeems the play. Does Bradshaw really think his audience will be shocked to learn that many blacks are stalwart Christians with socially conservative views?
Remember how the Duke and Earl in “Huckleberry Finn” were driven out of town by an angry audience that knew it had been swindled? Bradshaw had better start running. He is the emperor with no clothes.
NOTE: Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Martha Plimpton will be guest of honor at the Steppenwolf Salutes Women in the Arts fund-raising luncheon, to be held March 15 at The W Chicago, 172 W. Adams. Tickets start at $200. Phone: (312) 654-5632.