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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Testament of Mary
Mamaí Theatre Company
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Ain't Misbehavin' and David's review of An Impending Rupture of the Belly

Anne McEvoy
Photo by Bob Perkoski
While superbly acted, Mamaí Theatre's production of Irish playwright Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary is not without its flaws. As you enter the Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre, the pre-show music includes the hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints" as performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While Christian based, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is probably one of the least Mary-centric churches in the world. It is guessed that the copy of the Vienna Boys Choir's "Ave Maria" was misplaced.

The set consists of what resembles a grassless golf course with a sunken sand trap, water hazard, and gravel pit. There are plain wooden seats, a small table (on which rests a knife and sheaves of paper) and a brass water pitcher with two clay cups. A riser has been erected with plain wooden posts forming a gazebo of sorts with a green cloth as the awning and a fancy seat (much like you would see in a biblical theme movie) taking the central place of honor.

A red coated female usher comes onto stage as the Alison Krauss song "Down to The River to Pray" (from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?) fills the room. This is Mary—the Mother of God ... the Virgin Mother ... the Madonna who is living out her days in seclusion. Two of the apostles are pressuring her to write down her recollections of her son (even years after his death she cannot bear to say his name).

Mary begins by explaining that the fancy seat on the dais will never be occupied for it is reserved "for he who will never return." As a gasp escapes the crowd, thinking that she is referring to her son, it is revealed that she is speaking of her late husband Joseph.

Over the course of the next 110 minutes, Mary removes her usher uniform to reveal a soft silk-like dress underneath. She speaks of life with "her son" and the challenges and grief she faced that began when he was frighteningly lost for three days as a youth only to be found teaching at the temple. Great detail is given about the rising of Lazarus, the wedding at Cana, the healing of the cripple, and the torture and gruesome crucifixion.

In this reenactment, one gets the impression that Mary does not truly believe her son to be the Messiah, which goes counter to the biblical version of events that tells of an angelic visit prior to her conception and virgin birth. She describes the apostles as "misfits" who have trouble looking women in the eye, and the many followers as "fools and malcontents." As for the miracles, she has a blasé "maybe yes, maybe no" attitude that neither confirms nor denies their validity. In short, if indeed the apostles are looking for a "short, simple and reinforcing testimony" of her son, this might not be the best source. In her eyes she feels that her son was duped into being the leader of a doomed Jewish rebellion for which he paid the ultimate price.

While playing fast and loose with events that may or may not have happened nearly 2000 years ago, the real appeal of the play is the gut wrenching emotion that spills forth from a woman who lost her husband to natural causes then was compelled to watch her son die in a painful and cruel fashion.

Full use of the set and props are achieved: the knife is used as an explanation point, the sand pit as the grave of Lazarus, the water is for her to symbolically wash her feet, and the gravel to crawl through in agony.

In the end, it seems that Mary has resigned herself to be "The Mother" using the green awning as a robe and sitting majestically in the "unseatable" chair as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir peals forth with a full blast hymn of glory and adulation for her son.

In any of the dozen of local theaters that you might find Anne McEvoy performing, you are guaranteed a presentation in which nothing is left on the stage. This is especially true with the challenging role in The Testament of Mary. You will find yourself getting caught up in the raw emotion pouring off the stage.

In spite of some positive reviews and three Tony nominations (including Best Play), the 2013 Broadway production of The Testament of Mary closed a month and a half early of its promised run.

While not so much controversial, or for that matter overly sacrilegious, the play may be upsetting for some of the more devout due to its soft peddling of heavily ingrained Catholic doctrine. For those looking for a revealing religious experience in which to hang their hat on, they may be disappointed. This is more a play about a mother's loss and the effect it has had on her life. You truly feel Mary's pain over the loss of her husband and son. Go in with an open mind and leave a little wiser.

The Mamaí Theatre Company of The Testament of Mary, on stage at the Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre at Playhouse Square through July 23, 2017. Tickets are available online at or by calling (216) 241-6000 or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Box Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.

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