Mary

By Thomas Bradshawmary by Thomas bradshaw

Directed by May Adrales

At the Goodman Theatre’s Owen theatre

In-your-face social satire offends everything and everyone

Young  African-American playwright Thomas Bradshaw loves to provoke controversy by directly, without subtly, exploring latent societal taboos. His Mary is a discomforting comedy with an uneven tone that takes us in one direction then abruptly move into another that leads us to a most upsetting ending devoid of any possible resolution.

mary by Thomas bradshaw

We meet David (Alex Weisman), a gay college student and the son of two upper middle class Southerners still living in a 1830’s mentality. David, not yet out to his parents, brings his lover, Jonathan (Eddie Bennett) home to their Maryland home located on a former plantation in rural Maryland.

mary by Thomas bradshaw

After a scene that deals with James (Scott Jaeck), the father, and his wife Dolores (Barbara Garrick) talking about James’ erectile dysfunction that finds Dolores presenting him with a penis pump, we get a glimpse into their mentality at the family dinner. Jonathan is shocked to hear the Mary referred to as “Nigger Mary” by Dolores and James in a matter-of-fact casual manner. After dinner, mysteriously, David confronts his mother about her calling Mary with the N_word. Why now since he has heard that that term all his life? No explanation is given.

mary by Thomas bradshaw

When Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) is summoned by Dolores, see tells David that she doesn’t mind her nickname since she has been call that for 50 years.  Later, Mary and her husband, Elroy (Cedric Young) talk about how emancipation was a curse for Blacks – that slavery was a better life for many Blacks. Mary and Elroy then demonstrate their own bigotry  as they rant against homosexuality. Mary quotes the Bible to justify her homophobia. Mary get Elroy to shoot Jonathan in the groin with a BB gun to send him a message that sex with another man is sinful.  So Mary and Elroy are bigots too. They also don’t realize that they are still slaves to the white family.

David persuades his mother to allow and pay for Mary to learn how to read. The 90 minute one-act moves forward to Mary now living in the big house with Dolores as she is well on her way to a college degree despite her being in her 70’s. Mary and Dolores (both widows now) celebrate David and Jonathan’s marriage with good cheer and dance. Both women fully accept the gay marriage.  The show apparently has a hopeful ending with that redemption. But – that is not the case here. Bradshaw isn’t finished as a provocateur.

mary by Thomas bradshaw

He has a most chilling final scene that has Mary giving a speech at her commencement that at first honors David for helping Mary learn to read then she denounces David for living a gay lifestyle. She quotes Scripture in condemning the  gay lifestyle. Is she trying to save David since his lover Jonathan recently dies of AIDS or is her homophobia coming back to her?

Bradshaw never offers any type of resolution in this work. It seems that he only wants to stir up the gray areas between such reprehensible behavior. Racism and homophobia sure can upset an audience as evidence by several loud grunts and the sound of people storming out of the theatre. Mary offends Blacks, religion,  gays, white Southerners, victims of prostate cancer as it demonstrates that education is no cure for bigotry.

I have performance problems mainly from the over-the-top satirical tone that abruptly changes without foundation.  Myra Lucretia Taylor as Mary and Alex Weisman as David gave strong performances.  This show is designed to provoke audiences; too bad it doesn’t offer any resolution.  The material is so inflammatory and the issues are so important that you may want to take in this show to stimulate more dialogue about racism and homophobia. Be warned that Mary will wind you up and that is a good thing. You may hate this show as I did -but you’ll be glad you experienced it. Let the arguments begin.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicagompodcast

Date Reviewed: February 14, 2011

For full show information, check out the Mary page at Theatre In Chicago.

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $10 – $42, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through March 6, 2011