My Oh Mai
One gains an interesting perspective on a play based (however loosely) on the ancient tragedy, Electra, by Sophocles, when one watches in the company of a first generation Greek. The angst, anger, and adultery that run through Marina Carr's "The Mai" are certainly appropriate, my companion concluded, but where's the bloody body? If a play finds its roots in a Greek tragedy, somebody has to die.
"The Mai," by modern Irish playwright Marina Carr, and performed by an excellent ensemble of actors at The Strand theater, is set not in Argos but in an ornate manorial home (the illusion created by a huge chalk drawn mural on theater's walls) in Ireland on "Owl Lake."
The focus of the play is "The Mai," a tall, lissome redhead played by Amelia Adams who, in the opening act, is swathed in a white flowing costume befitting a Greek tragic heroine. Her name says much about her character-she is not merely Mai, but "THE" Mai, like a royal title. Her sisters, Connie (Jessica Baker), proper and businesslike in her demeanor and attire, and the blue-haired Beck (April Rejman) cannot match The Mai in her beauty, nor her pain, though each has a portion of their own.
The Mai, we learned, married Robert (Jonathan Sachsman), a composer and cellist, who, for reasons never specifically defined, leaves The Mai and her children for five years, only to return to The Mai, who greets him as though he'd been gone for a weekend business trip.
It is here one must suspend one's disbelief for one to accept that The Mai, after so many years of living successfully on her own, building a magnificent estate, raising her children as a single parent, would happily accept Robert's flowers and gifts, welcoming him back with open arms. At one point in the play, the 100-year-old Grandma Fraochlan (Natalia Chavez Leimkuhler), remarks that the world is divided into two halves--those who put their children first, and those who care most for their lover. The Mai would appear to fall in the latter category, but it is love poorly placed as Robert quickly reverts to old habits, having an affair and making no effort to conceal it from his wife.
The play at this point becomes a tableau of Irish family dysfunction as old wounds are reopened, decades-old grudges abound, not to mention a generous supply of whisky, Mulberry wine and a ubiquitous opium pipe that is passed casually about like a box of chocolates.
Like a defective gene passed down from generation to generation, we learn of how each woman, from the century old grandmother to The Mai and her siblings, were raised to believe in a life that's "huge," epic, the stuff of "wild dreams" and made believable by the curse of "hope." It is the Mai's dream of a perfect love that drives her to build her "fairy tale" home and allows her to take back Robert whom she casts in her life's play as Prince Charming even though he's really just a toad.
Serving as the Greek chorus in the play is Millie (Brenda Badger), the Mai's daughter, who vacillates from 11-year-old to full-grown woman, reminiscing about her time growing up on Owl Lake. Millie provides important exposition and stories about the play's characters, but the audience would be able to learn more if Ms. Badger had spoken at less brisk a pace as neither myself nor my theater companion could follow more than half of what she was saying.
While my companion yearned for blood, the only knives piercing hearts in "The Mai" are of the metaphorical design, the only deaths, the characters' dreams. Puritanical plain-Jane-librarian-spinster-style aunts Julie (Nancy Linden) and Agnes (Lucie Poirier) run afoul of Grandma Fraochlan, an Emerald Isle version of Gypsy Rose Lee and the Unsinkable Molly Brown, who's free spirited if not hedonistic tendencies make her a symbol of life itself--ironic in that she is the oldest character in the play. Grandma Fraochlan's love for "the 9-fingerEd Fisherman," lost at sea scores of years before, appears to be the only love truly consummated and cherished. Robert and The Mai's relationship is an abortion; Connie's has no flame at all, and Beck bounces from relationship to relationship and now soon to be divorced.