Chicago, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Goodman Theatre took a chance with its world premiere production of "Mary" which opened Monday evening on the Owen stage. I, for one, am glad they did--although not everyone agrees. The opening night audience remained silent after the final shocking finish. When the cast returned to the stage, the applause slowly began trickling through the audience ranging from polite clapping to some standing O's.
Based on a true story, "Mary", written by Prince Prize and Guggenheim Fellowship-winning playwright Thomas Bradshaw is an advant-garde exploration of racism, homophobia and religion. It creates a bristling collage of many of society's ills that were in existence in 1983 and still survive today in some isolated locations.
The 30-year-old playwright, Thomas Bradshaw, is known for his use of social satire to examine contemporary American society. His work has been praised by the likes of Hilton Als in the New Yorker as "rich and groundbreaking." Bradshaw is unlike other African American playwrights, including August Wilson whose body of works are well-known to Goodman audiences. Whereas Wilson and other black playwrights explore the human condition through the psychological and sociological scars created, Bradshaw gives us a snapshot of what goes on behind closed doors--scenes that are discomfiting but real and hit audiences like a brick.
The show opens as David (Alex Weisman), a gay college student is inviting his boyfriend
Jonathan (Eddie Bennett) from Chicago to come to meet his family over Christmas break at their family home--a former southern plantation that has been in the family for generations.
David arrives home to hugs and kisses from his "family"--mom Delores (Barbara Garrick); dad James (Scott Jaeck); black housekeeper Mary (Myra Lucretia Taylor) and Mary's husband Elroy (Cedric Young).
David's "family," not unlike many wealthy Southern families, has lived on their homestead since the days of slavery and little has changed. The former one-room shed that stood as the slaves quarters before the Civil War is now where LeRoy and Mary live as "sharecroppers." The "Big House" where Delores and her family live is the same home occupied by generations of her family. Mary, has been called nigger Mary since childhood to differentiate her from the other Mary--for years she's thought nothing of it, its just a nickname," she says.
Things come into clearer focus when David's boyfriend Jonathan arrives. The events set in motion from there range from outrageously funny to shock, and disbelief. Never does Bradshaw tell us what to think, he lets us sift through the unsettling happenings and draw our own conclusions.
The talented cast, set design (Kevin Depinet), and direction (May Adrales) all make this a quality production, but be forewarned, this is not "The Sound of Music." You will be uncomfortable, you will be angry and you may or may not get it or like it.
I believe this quote from Bradshaw sheds light on what he hopes the audience will take home from "Mary." "You watch a play like "Mary," and our modern, politically-correct sensibility leads us to think, 'these must be backwards people, this is certainly reprehensible behavior, these people have to be evil.' But they're not. Nothing in my plays is pure black or white. All of my characters exist along the spectrum of gray, just as all people do--no one is absolutely good or absolutely evil."
You can decide for yourself at "Mary." Tickets to "Mary" ($10 to $42) are currently on sale at GoodmanTheatre.org. or at the box office at 170 N. Dearborn. 312 443 3800. Through March 6, 2011.
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