Review Roundup: THE TESTAMENT OF MARY Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!


Award-winning stage and screen actress Fiona Shaw returns to Broadway tonight, April 22, for the opening of The Testament of Mary, by the acclaimed author Colm Tóibín, directed by Deborah Warner. The production will run for a twelve-week limited engagement through Sunday, June 16, at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

In The The Testament of Mary the mother of Jesus tells her story of her son's Crucifixion. This historic collaboration between actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner results in the creation, for the first time, of a new work for Broadway, written by acclaimed author Colm Tóibín.

The Testament of Mary has scenery designed by Tom Pye, costume designed by Ann Roth, lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton and original music and sound designed by Mel Mercier.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Long before that moment of confrontational nudity, you will have probably surmised that Ms. Warner is going to err on the side of literal-mindedness...There are moments in "Testament" that demonstrate that Ms. Shaw's abilities to command as an actress have only grown...This Mary is an ordinary woman of her day, forced against her will into a role in history she never sought or wanted. Ms. Shaw gives us that woman, for sure... But if you're going to give us a vision of Mary as we've never seen her, why would you block the view?...I was never happier - or more harrowed - than in those rare quiet, contained moments when this Mary made us feel that we were in a private tête-à-tête with a woman who had an extraordinary story to tell, and needed to keep telling it, forever and ever.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Still, for anyone who's curious about its subject -- believers and non-believers alike --Testament offers an intriguing, and deeply compassionate, account.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: Ms. Shaw is, of course, a great actor-I have deeply etched memories of the avant-garde "Medea" that she brought to Broadway in 2002-but she mostly settles for generalized mannerism in "The Testament of Mary," though her performance is both specific and memorable whenever she modulates out of the key of outrage and slips into something less obvious. (The quiet awe with which she describes the raising of Lazarus, for instance, is breathtaking.) As for Deborah Warner's portentous staging, it's a visually static catalog of stock postmodern effects that are already looking a bit quaint. If any of them surprise you, then you don't get out enough.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: In a gentle Irish accent, Shaw is at turns mournful and at others table-flipping angry. Director Deborah Warner, a frequent Shaw collaborator, puts the actress on the constant move...This Mary is prone to menacing anger and sharp screams, suffering from simmering trauma and guilt...In a season of one-man shows on Broadway...Shaw may have one of the more controversial, rolling her eyes at apostles and dismissing them as if they were weirdoes her son met smoking funny cigarettes at Bonnaroo. She also must reveal a mother's horrific anguish at watching the brutal death of her son. Shaw is up to the task for both, even if the production seems littered with half-baked ideas.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A dense, boldly unorthodox piece for risk-averse Broadway, it has been directed with transfixing focus by Deborah Warner, whose frequent collaborations with Shaw go back 25 years...[Shaw's] Mary is haunted, scornful, a hardened skeptic as uncompromisingly judgmental with herself as she is with others. She also has the manic energy of a woman whose refusal of the comforts of sleep - and more pointedly, the healing balm of dreams - has taken her beyond fatigue...Provocative as much of the content is, Toibin is not doing anything so blunt as a revisionist interpretation of the Scriptures. He is undertaking a nuanced psychological exploration of a figure whose nobility is due in part to her eternal silence, rendering her instead here as a woman who will not be silenced.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The matchless Fiona Shaw commands the stage in this solo piece adapted by Irish scribe Colm Toibin...It's safe to say you've never seen anything like it. Helmer Deborah Warner, a first-hand creative collaborator on this hugely imaginative work, succinctly conveys the point of it in a single powerful image...Warner honors the scribe's intention with what appears to be her single piece of direction: play it human. That's exactly what Shaw's soul-baring perf delivers - a mother whose grief at the loss of her child is singularly human, but also so timeless and universal, it seems to contain the rage, the fury and the suffering of every mother who ever lost a child.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Mary is becoming more modern, or rather, incorporating more modernity into her timelessness. This is subtly and thrillingly done, not just by Shaw, who is endlessly resourceful and even manages to squeeze a few laughs from the definitionally tragic material...The Testament of Mary does not work like most other plays, solo or otherwise, nor even like Tóibín's wonderful novella, which seems to occur spontaneously-an immaculate conception-in the reader's imagination. Instead, Warner has met the burden of staging the material by dividing it into a series of what might be called parables, albeit parables of skepticism.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Tóibín's writing is elegant, rhythmic and vivid, but it's prose by a fiction writer and essayist whose primary medium is the page. His text, though it started as a play, is more impressive as a novel. In its dramatic format, there's an occasional choppiness to the transitions and the ending is abrupt...But "The Testament of Mary" belongs to Shaw, one of the most versatile and commanding stage actresses in the English-speaking world. Her voice infuses Tóibín's writing with living color and her emotion forcefully clarifies the point of this risky and very un-Broadway-like theatrical endeavor - to find grace and redemption in the honesty of flesh and blood.

David Cote, Time Out NY: Shaw's performance is keen and staggering in its total effect, and slightly self-indulgent in its particulars (I felt a similar dichotomy a decade ago with her Medea). She has a tendency, especially early in the show, to show you how. bloody. hard. she's acting! And director Deborah Warner allows too much neurotic prop-moving business and italicized bits of mugging. (It's probably intentional, as the character is still processing the trauma and avoiding the admission of her fundamental lack of faith.) Still, this is a potent piece of writing, and Shaw winds up to a shattering finale.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Astonishment may have become a debased word in the exclamation-pointy world of theater reviews. So electrifying is Fiona Shaw, however, that the performance left me, along with the rest of the audience, struck silent after the final wrenching words were spoken...Long-limbed, dark and hollow-cheeked, Shaw is an actress of fathomless expressiveness and dancerly motion. These well suit Colm Toibin's lamentation, a text that calls for subtle flashes of anger, irony, eulogy, horror and regret over its 90-minute course.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: At times, the play comes close to overkill as Mary overturns everything in sight. But that's really a minor sin. Despite a protest at an early preview by a traditional Catholic group, "The Testament of Mary" isn't irreverent. Nor is it reverent. It is imaginative and provocative - what theater should be.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Few, if any, others could match her ferocious intensity, keen intelligence and dark humor. This skeptical Mary doesn't bother to hide her contempt for her son's cynical followers. But she also acknowledges her own failings, admitting that she could not bear to stay until the conclusion of the crucifixion.

Linda Winer, Newsday: For more secular theater lovers, however, the peril comes in missing "The Testament of Mary," adapted by Colm Tóibín from his own novella. With both enormous audacity and bottomless grief, Tóibín's 90-minute stunner imagines a version of the Christ story "from the silent woman we pray to."

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: She throws herself into the role of Mary, flailing her arms, striding angrily across the stage and spitting out her words with dark eloquence. It's a performance that emphasizes the theatricality and imaginative power of Toibin's story.

Erik Haagensen, Backstage: That Fiona Shaw is a force of nature is indisputable. As a very human Virgin Mary in playwright Colm Tóibín's 90-minute monologue "The Testament of Mary," Shaw prowls about Tom Pye's object-strewn set declaiming her lines in everything from a whisper to a shriek and all stops in between while jangling large metal nails, hurling a hefty wooden ladder this way and that, stripping naked and plunging out of sight into a pool of water, and even at one point conveying a large yellow-beaked black vulture offstage. Working with longtime collaborator Deborah Warner as her director, Shaw is never less than a compelling presence. I'm not convinced, however, that all the symbolic clutter is the best elucidation of Tóibín's simple, moving deconstruction of one of the world's most beloved religious icons.

Matt Windman, AM New York: "The Testament of Mary," a visceral one-woman dramatization of Colm Tóibín's recently released, controversial short novel about the Virgin Mary that stars the characteristically intense Fiona Shaw, has the distinction of being the only Broadway show of the season, at least to my knowledge, that attracted protesters to its first preview performance... Under the direction of Deborah Warner, Shaw delivers a raw, raging performance. She combines these emotions with an edge of humor, some nudity and a sense of control that makes the piece feel less rambling. 3 stars

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