Theater Review - The Testament of Mary (NY)

I did not look forward to “The Testament of Mary,” a one woman show starring Fiona Shaw, but I found it to be an amazing personal theatrical work. I have never seen Ms. Shaw in any show however, she projects the strength of  a lion---or at least the vulture, which is on display on stage. She is, too! In a glass box, praying, before the play actually begins.  The audience is invited on to the stage, as we were in the musical “Once.” Audience members line up, march on stage and gawk at Mary draped in a silk shawl chanting and they take pictures of the large, ugly birdchained to a wooden table.  They then take their seats. Mary appears in long black homespun dress over pants.  


Written by Colm Toibin and directed uniquely by Deborah Warner, the 90 minutes are breathtaking and fiercely sad.  We meet Mary on Tom Pye's interesting set, lit with white brightness by Jennifer Tipton, scattered with ceramic pots, a tall ladder and one large barren tree topped mysteriously with a wagon wheel. The vulture does not remain on stage, thank goodness, but Mary, when describing the ghastly scene at the Crucifixion, tells a horrible side story about a man who is feeding live rabbits to a devouring vulture.   


Fiona Shaw's Mary is a proud woman, who never mentions her son's name. It is implied that he is Jesus, referred to sometimes as King of the Jews. Her initial complaint is that he has surrounded himself with misfits.  Her warnings to him of imminent danger fall on deaf ears. He ignores his mother and the crowds around him increase. Protesters gather and suddenly the worshiping crowds turn ugly.


As Mary relates the story she throws water on herself, almost a cleansing. When she throws off her clothes and bathes naked in a pond of water it is not a sexual act, but  a religious one. By the way, this is the third play this season to have a character dive naked into a bathtub! (The other two were “Macbeth” and “Breakfast atTiffany's.”)  The only negative is Mary constantly grabbing at cigarettes—very out of character. 


“The Testament of Mary” ends on a golden note.  Looking back on this awful time, she says “It was not worth it!”   But it is worth it to see this play and this powerful actress! At the Walter Kerr.

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