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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Playwrights Horizons

By Bill Stevenson

  Sigourney Weaver

A.R. Gurney's new comedy about a crackpot relative boasts an ideal cast (headed by Sigourney Weaver and Kristine Nielsen) and a few nutty plot twists. But the play doesn't hit its stride until the end of the exposition- heavy first act, and Gurney saves the funniest lines and situations for the second. Once it gets going, Crazy Mary is diverting and at times surprising. It's not, however, as tightly written or deeply felt as the veteran playwright's best portraits of the vanishing WASP class he knows so well.

The setting is a sanitarium for the wealthy near Boston. Pretty, preppy, put-together Buffalo realtor Lydia(Weaver) and her mopey son Skip (Michael Esper), a junior at Harvard, are checking up on Lydia's second cousin Mary (Nielsen), a resident since the 1970s who happens to have a huge trust fund. When Mary enters the handsome library (impeccably designed by John Lee Beatty), she is unresponsive and stone-faced.

Fortunately, Mary springs to life in the second act, and so does the play. Nielsen, who specializes in manic screwballs (Betty's Summer Vacation,Omnium Gatherum), lifts the energy level and accelerates the tempo. The impetus for Mary's recovery may be far-fetched, but at least it triggers priceless reactions from the priggish Lydia. Skip undergoes a transformation as well, finding happiness far from Harvard Yard. Mary's doctor (Mitchell Greenberg) and nurse (Myra Lucretia Taylor), meanwhile, support Mary's newfound zest for life, much to Lydia's chagrin.

All five actors are perfect for their roles, particularly Weaver, who also starred in Gurney's Mrs. Farnsworth. With her stiff posture, genteel manners, and haughty tone, she makes Lydia a quintessential Northeastern WASP matron (albeit an impecunious one). Nielsen's expert timing earns laughs, and Esper's Skip is believable even in screwy situations.

While director Jim Simpson could speed up the first-act pacing, Gurney could also make cuts. There's too much talking and not enough action. Gurney's strongest plays, from The Dining Room to last year's terrific Indian Blood, tell family anecdotes much more briskly. Despite its slow start, Crazy Mary will appeal to fans of Gurney, Weaver, and Nielsen-and perhaps anyone who has a loony, loaded relative.


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