Chicago Theater Review: THE TESTAMENT OF MARY (Victory Gardens Theater)

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by Barnaby Hughes on November 23, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

MARY, MARY, QUITE CONTRARY

It begins with a woman taking a bath. The lighting is low and there are dozens of candles spread about the set. She slowly gets up and dries off, donning a linen shift and a crimson robe. She is Mary, the mother of Jesus. This simple, but highly effective entrée into Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary immediately warns the audience that what they are about to see is not the usual story as it has been presented by the Christian churches for centuries. Tóibín originally published his story as a novella in 2012. His adaptation for the stage debuted on Broadway in April 2013, followed by productions in London and Barcelona.

Linda Reiter in Victory Garden’s production of THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín- photo by Michael Courier.

For Victory Gardens’ Midwest premiere, the daring direction of Dennis Začek beautifully brings Tóibín’s vision to life. Christopher Ash’s set and projection design, Sarah Jo White’s costumes, Michael Rourke’s lights, and Andre Pluess’s sound all contribute to the play’s meditative ambience. Yet, this very external tranquility provides a stark contrast to the inner turmoil so artfully portrayed by Linda Reiter as Mary. She is not the quasi-divine figure of Christian art and piety, but an all-too-human woman who hurts, grieves, rages, and loves.

Linda Reiter in Victory Garden’s production of THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín. Photo by Michael Courier.

What is unsatisfying about The Testament of Mary has nothing to do with the production, but everything to do with Tóibín’s flawed vision. It is primarily an intellectual one that leaves the emotions strangely unmoved, despite his imaginative efforts to plumb Mary’s psyche.

Linda Reiter stars in Victory Garden’s production of THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín - photo by Michael Courier.

Mary launches into her 70-minute monologue by telling us about the two unnamed men who guard her. One of them, presumably John the Evangelist, is writing about her and her son. According to Mary, they’re not telling the truth, hence the reason why she is breaking her silence and giving us her own side of the story. It is an entirely demystified account of Jesus’s life and death, one that denies the virgin birth as well as the resurrection. Mary even claims not to have witnessed the final moment of her son’s death because she fled the scene in order to save her life. Unable to make sense of Jesus’s tragic crucifixion, she concludes, “It was not worth it.”

Linda Reiter stars in Victory Garden’s production of THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín. (Photo by Michael Courier).

The Testament of Mary is certainly a challenging and intriguing work of drama, one that aims to help us see familiar events with new eyes. For some, it will be shocking, even offensive. For others, it will make sense of the gospels in a way that is more acceptable and palatable. Tóibín’s play offers genuine insights, especially into Jesus’s raising of Lazarus from the dead, but despite the excellence of Victory Gardens’ production, The Testament of Mary feels hollow.

Linda Reiter stars in Victory Garden’s production of THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín. Photo by Michael Courier.

photos by Michael Courier

The Testament of Mary
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Tues–Fri at 7:30; Sat at 4 & 7:30; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on December 14, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 871-3000 or visit www.VictoryGardens.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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