Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Page Marlowe”

  Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic
  • Outer Critics Circle

Dreams. Daydreams. The dreamers write the scripts casting characters from their lives and casting themselves as the protagonists. The dreamers, write, cast, act in, and direct these phantasmagoric and kaleidoscopic vignettes that are “performed” while they are nestled in REM sleep or daydreaming on public transportation or at work. “Mary Page Marlowe,” currently running at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, is an engaging non-linear cascade of such kaleidoscopic vignettes from the title character’s life as a child of twelve (Mia Sinclair Jenness) to her life as an adult of sixty-nine (Blair Brown) facing her mortality in a Lexington, Kentucky hospital room. Brokenness seems to have shadowed Mary Page during this passage of time along with the dysfunction from which brokenness often erupts.

Tracy Letts, who often writes about the dysfunction extant in family systems, pulls the curtain back from a dramatic examination a specific tortured American family, to examine the cultural underbelly of the provenance of that systemic dysfunction – how Mary Page might have been traumatized. In 1996 when she is 50 (Kellie Overbey), Mary Page “I told you to get some help! Didn’t I? I told you that your drinking was out of control! You’re killing yourself!”

This is one of the “panels” that Mary Page “sews” during her life. This metaphor of the patchwork quilt – its stains, the “different” women making the quilt, the materials used, the relative condition of each panel – is introduced at the end of the play when in 2005 fifty-nine-year-old Mary Page (Blair Brown) visits the drycleaners in Lexington, Kentucky and she asks the proprietor Ben (Elliot Villar) whether her “quilt” can be repaired and cleaned.

Each scene, each panel, discloses a “bit” of Mary Page’s life, her relationships with her children, the disparate experiences with marriage with three husbands. Indeed, there is dysfunction in each of these vignettes; however, it is what underlies the dysfunction – the trauma involved in the vicissitudes of life – that energizes Tracy Letts’s script and makes Mary Page an “Everywoman.” She is an accountant in Kentucky trying to figure out who she is and where she fits into the larger community. She faces abuse and neglect: she abuses and neglects. She has extramarital affairs. She sees a “shrink” (Marcia Debonis) at thirty-six (Tatiana Maslany).

Under Lila Neugebauer’s exquisite direction, the actors playing Mary Page each give intriguing performances that focus on the pastiche of one “ordinary” American facing the dangers inherent in leaving “the crib” and separating and individuating from the nuclear family. This collage of a person seems to be a copy of other stories like those “belonging to” Mary Page Marlowe and this familiarity is the source of the plays disquieting construction and execution. The actors who are part of each panel in Mary Page’s life also deliver authentic and believable performances.

Laura Jellinek’s multi-level set, Kay Voyce’s decade specific costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting work well with the actors’ craft to delineate scenes, places, and moods. Brandon Wolcott’s sound design and Bray Poor’s original music envelope the work of the creative team in sonorous tones of expectation.

 

MARY PAGE MARLOWE

“Mary Page Marlowe” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street) through Sunday August 12, 2018. For further information about the production including cast, creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.