Review: Mary (Goodman Theatre)

     
     

Unflinching comedy makes you flinch

     
     

(l to r) James (Scott Jaeck), David (Alex Weisman), Jonathan (Eddie Bennett) and Dolores (Barbara Garrick) sit down to a family dinner while Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) tends to them in Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary. Photo by Liz Lauren.

   
Goodman Theatre presents
  
Mary
  
Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by May Adrales
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $15-$32  |  more info 

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

In his short time as a professional playwright, Thomas Bradshaw has developed a reputation as one of the foremost provocateurs in the theatre. And after having seen the Goodman Theatre’s production of Mary, it’s a title that is well deserved.

Bradshaw obviously is not one to shy away from such controversial topics as homosexuality, race relations, religion and AIDS, all of which he tackles in the exceedingly dark comedy. But he also is able to deal with these subjects in a way that isn’t sensational. His handling may be over-the-top, taking notions of racism, for example, to absurd heights in order to comically portray the realities of racial inequality. But he never loses sight of the point he is trying to make. In other words, the material isn’t shocking merely to be shocking.

College sweethearts (l to r) Jonathan (Eddie Bennett) and David (Alex Weisman) embrace as they get ready to leave school for winter break in Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary. Photo by Liz Lauren.Mary begins in the year 1983. A collegiate gay couple, David (Alex Weisman) and Jonathan (Eddie Bennett), are preparing for the holidays. When David asks if Jonathan would like to spend the Christmas season with his family, Jonathan apprehensively agrees. The two decide to hide their sexuality from the parents, insisting instead they are just really good buddies.

To say David’s family is unusual is an understatement. His extraordinarily over-the-top WASPy parents (played by Barbara Garrick and Scott Jaeck) keep a black maid on hand who they endearingly refer to as Nigger Mary. Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) embodies the mammy caricature, that portly maternal good-natured but simple black woman that has permeated white representations of blacks for decades. She is subservient with a smile and treated as a member of the family.

Jonathan is our fish-out-of-water in this scenario, and so we view David’s bizarre family dynamic through his eyes. Of course, seeing a black woman who is affectionately referred to as a nigger and who lives in a cabin on the property doesn’t sit well with Jonathan. And so he urges David to convince his parents to make some changes. David eventually confronts his mother, pleading with her to send Mary to community college so that she may learn to read.

Meanwhile, Mary and her husband Elroy are uncomfortable with David’s obvious homosexuality. The notion of two men engaging in a sexual relationship goes against their strong Christian roots. And so Mary vows to do God’s work and instructs Elroy to shoot Jonathan in the crotch with a BB gun.

     
Dolores (Barbara Garrick) surprises her husband James (Scott Jaeck) with an early Christmas present in Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary.  Photo by Liz Lauren. Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) recites the Biblical story of Lot to her husband Elroy (Cedric Young) in Thomas Bradshaw’s 'Mary'.  Photo by Liz Lauren.

It certainly sounds like we’re venturing into sitcom territory here. And that seems to be Bradshaw’s intention. But I can assure you that the play does not end on a hearty laugh and a freeze frame. In fact, the ending is quite possibly one of the most unsettling endings to any play I have ever seen. Without giving too much away, Bradshaw in essence pulls the rug out from under the audience, delivering a big "Fuck you!" It’s both ingenious and sadistic.

My problem is that, although I think the ending is a brilliant concept, it feels like the punch line to a very long sketch. It’s a little glib; a little out of left field. It doesn’t entirely make sense when you really sit and think about the characters and the journey they have undergone. And so as much as I really do appreciate the ending as a conceit, I can’t say it was necessarily good playwriting. Myra Lucretia Taylor, as Nigger Mary, struggles with her relationship with the Jennings family in Thomas Bradshaw's 'Mary'. Photo by Liz Lauren.It just makes too big of a leap in logic in order to express how religion and good intentions can send people on misguided missions.

Kudos to the actors, all of whom hold their own in this topsy-turvy play. Weisman and Bennett are good at playing up the puppy love of their relationship, while Bennett scores big laughs with his nimble prancing and shocked facial expressions. Meanwhile, Taylor is incredibly likeable as Mary, even when her character is scheming to shoot a man in the testicles. This likeability makes the play’s conclusion that much more revolting.

May Adrales‘ direction is adept. She keeps the play in motion constantly, giving little time for pause between scenes. It’s exceptional pacing that makes this 90-minute one act breeze by.

The accolades that Bradshaw has received have been earned. Mary really is a thought-provoking and important piece of theatre. I just wish Bradshaw could have found a way to draft his ending so that it wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the characters. Still, the point is made. Just don’t expect to leave the Goodman feeling uplifted.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

(l to r) David (Alex Weisman) plays his new violin for his mother Dolores (Barbara Garrick), his father James (Scott Jaeck), Elroy (Cedric Young) and Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) in Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary. Photo by Liz Lauren

All photos by Liz Lauren

         
           

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Review: Make Me Love You (New Rock Theatre)

     
    

Love me or quit me?

  
  

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

  
New Rock Theater presents
  
Make Me Love You (an evolution of love)
  
Conceived and Directed by Brandon Pape
Music performed by
Paper Thick Walls
at New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $15-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love), conceived and directed by The Verge Theatre’s Brandon Pape, takes a look at the various stages of love and how it affects those in it and those around it. Love is great while it’s good, but when it goes bad it’s like accidently taking a swig of that sour, curdled milk you left sitting in the fridge three weeks past its due date. With Valentine’s Day thrown into the mix, the Verge takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of love.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge TheatreThe set, designed by Andréa Ball, is a very industrial space. With scaffolding, exposed lights and wiring and plastic hanging around like drapes and curtains, it creates a cool warehouse vibe. It’s almost like walking into a found space that someone decided to use as a backdrop for their performance, without all the bells and whistles, fancy set pieces and all the flair. The set also provides a jungle gym of sorts for the actors to swing, run and climb around on as they perform, creating interesting visual levels for the eyes to follow and a perfect opportunity to break through the fourth wall separating cast from audience.

Make Me Love You is a combination of three short plays performed and intermixed with poetry by various artists, and music performed live by Paper Thick Walls. It’s an interesting combination of mediums used as a portrayal of relationships and love. The show comes at the notion of love from all angles, literally and figuratively, with the use of so many art forms as well as the actors moving about the space not only in front of the audience but on the sides, behind them and through the aisles. It’s a very visual and sensory experience that, at times, fully engulfs the audience in the action and pulls the emotion through them.

The cast (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Drew Emmerich, Joe Sultani, Claire Alden, Wes Drummond, Atra Asdou, Tom Scheide and Cathlyn Melvin) does a fine job of keeping the energy high to the pace of the performance is steady and moves along well. Although it keeps moving, there are many points at which there seems to be a disconnect between one scene to the next or different actions. It’s understood the overall underlying theme of Make Me Love You is love and relationships, but at certain points this theme takes on too broad of scope, leaving me wishing for a more concrete arch that connects the various parts of the performance.

     
A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

While appreciating the use of not only the short plays but the poetry and music with dance, some of the poems are powerful and fulfilling while others come across as just words repeated off a page with less force behind a meaning.

The performances by Paper Thick Walls and the choreography performed by the cast is interesting to watch and listen to but it is clear that not all of the actors are dancers so some movements are not as sharp.

It’s a welcome sight to see that Make Me Love You investigates not only mushy romantic love, but explores what happens when loves fades or makes people act in ways they never otherwise would. It plays into all of the different emotions that spring from love and relationships, taking the performance to different levels to keep the audience engaged.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Make Me Love You (an evolution of love) plays at the New Rock Theater, 3933 N. Elston, through February 20. Tickets are $10 general admission and can be purchased by calling (773) 639-5316.

A scene from 'Make Me Love You - an evolution of love, presented by New Rock Theater and The Verge Theatre

     
     

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