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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Walter Kerr


  Fiona Shaw

The Testament of Mary, a visceral one-woman dramatization of Colm Tóibín's recently released, controversial short novel about the Virgin Mary, which stars the characteristically intense and fearless Fiona Shaw, has the distinction of being the only Broadway show of the season, at least to my knowledge, that attracted protestors to both its first preview performance and opening night.

The protestors, who represented a PA-based Catholic organization, described Tóibín's novel as “blasphemous” and “heretical” on their website. During their brief appearances, they stood outside the theater holding protest signs. They were even still outside when theatergoers were heading to the opening night party. The show’s producers, in turn, issued a statement that the show “is neither anti-Mary nor anti-Christianity, but rather a portrait of a very human woman.”

The text, written from Mary’s point of view following her son’s death (who she never refers to as Jesus), is just as effective as a 90-minute monologue. In fact, there is virtually no difference between the original novel and the script.

Tóibín depicts Mary as an extremely agitated, chain-smoking woman who is now being closely watched by her son’s followers, who want her to offer only a sanitized, easily digestible account of his life for their Gospels. Mary, unafraid and unsilenced, proceeds to deliver her own deeply cynical version of the events, in which she criticizes the apostles as weaklings unable to look a woman in the eye, describes the suffering of Lazarus after he came back from the dead and confesses how she left the scene of the crucifixion before Jesus died in order to save her own life.

Under the direction of Deborah Warner, Shaw delivers an absolutely raw, raging performance that is reminiscent of her similarly howling turn as Medea back in 2002. She combines these emotions with an edge of humor, some nudity and a sense of control that makes the piece feel less rambling in nature.

There is also a kind of pre-show in which audience members can walk around the stage, which is filled with random items such as pottery, barbed wire, a chained-down vulture and a glass cubicle isolating Shaw while in prayer.

Hours after the show received a Tony nomination for Best Play, its producers announced that it would close just a few days later, perhaps because Shaw did not receive a nomination for Best Actress in a Play. What a shame that her extraordinary turn fell between the cracks of the crowded landscape of the end of the Broadway season. 


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