Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of Second Stage's MARY PAGE MARLOWE?
Tracy Letts' Mary Page Marlowe's cast features Blair Brown, Kayli Carter, Audrey Corsa, Marcia DeBonis, Nick Dillenburg, Ryan Foust, Tess Frazer, Emma Geer, Grace Gummer, Mia Sinclair Jenness, Brian Kerwin, Tatiana Maslany, Kellie Overbey, Susan Pourfar, Maria Elena Ramirez, Elliot Villar, and Gary Wilmes.
If you looked back on eleven moments from your life, would you recognize yourself, or would you see a stranger? Mary Page Marlowe is a seemingly ordinary accountant from Ohio who has experienced pain and joy, success and failure. In this sweeping but intimate play, Tracy Letts gives us a haunting portrait of a complex woman, demonstrating how a series of forgotten moments can add up to one memorable life.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: All six Mary Pages are excellent, handing off, as if in a relay race, the baton of the character's discontinuous personality. If Ms. Brown seems to be giving an especially fine-grained performance, that's in part because the older Mary Page is more stable than the earlier ones. The three Mary Pages from 27 through 50 - the tightly coiled Ms. Maslany, the frantic Ms. Pourfar and the explosive Ms. Overbey - trace emotional arcs that are more jagged. The two younger Mary Pages set the baseline beautifully.
Despite the deliberate disjointedness of the script, the production, another confidently expressive staging by Lila Neugebauer, makes it coolly legible. The supporting ensemble - husbands, friends, children, a nurse - offer deeply etched cameos. Among other helpful touches, the costumes by Kaye Voyce and especially the wigs by Anne Ford-Coates and Tom Watson help you keep track of the timeline.
Elysa Gardner, The Village Voice: Gender is relevant here, of course, but Letts's approach is refreshingly free of self-conscious feminism. The apparent passivity that can make Mary Page frustrating, even to herself - "I didn't decide on any of it. All of it happened to me," she tells a therapist of her path in life - owes to more than some imposed lack of autonomy. And for those who don't see themselves as entirely autonomous, Letts suggests - boldly and insightfully - that there can be power in indecision, or in going along to get along. "The only reason I've ever had sex is shame, guilt, power, attention," Mary Page admits to her shrink in the same scene. "No one will ever know that. No one is ever going to see me."
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: The point may be to marvel in the mundane and the unusual when it comes to Mary Page, whose history suggests why she drinks too much, bed-hops and grapples with life. Hence, there's the fleet of actresses playing her including Blair Brown, Tatiana Maslany of "Orphan Black" and Susan Pourfar, a very fine actress who finds little traction in this material.
The script drops references to puzzles and quilts - two decent metaphors for piecing together a whole from disparate parts. In the end, this accountant's story reminds that not every balance sheet or life - or play - adds up.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: It's not hard to pick out the big themes in Letts's play, which is part of what can make it feel surfacey despite its attempt to go deeper into a life not quite lived. But as Mary Page and her shrink discuss her different compartmentalized lives, or as the pregnant question "What do you want?" becomes a clear refrain, or as 19-year-old Mary Page and her college friends play with a Tarot deck ("It's up to you to decide what you want to do," says the sweet-natured Lorna, while the more worldly Connie adds, "They're already dealt! Nothing we do is gonna change the cards!) - it can start to feel like Letts is underlining his play's motifs in red. This makes Mary Page's story, despite the strong work of a number of individual actors, dispiritingly easy to digest. Like a simple carbohydrate, a superior donut, it's got a structure and a taste we recognize, it's quick to absorb, and it doesn't stick with you long.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Somewhere along the timeline of existence, our lives change in major ways, but so incrementally, we hardly notice these seismic shifts. (Even the death of Mary Page's husband - her third husband, no less - happens offstage.) In a session with her shrink, she goes so far as to suggest that her earlier self no longer even exists. "It feels like a different person was going through that," she says.
In Letts' playbook, it isn't this event or that relationship that makes a life. It's the sheer accumulation of multiple, supposedly inconsequential scenes that finally defines a life we can recognize. Or, as Mary Page puts it, more philosophically, "It takes a good long time to figure some things out."
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Under the careful direction of Lila Neugebauer, the six actresses playing Mary Page (looking enough alike so the connection is clear) make the character whole with their impeccable performances. Most notable are Kellie Overbey, who plays her at 50 in a crucial scene in which her built-up rage boils over, and Blair Brown, ages 59, 63 and 69, who poignantly reveals in spare detail the final years of this painful life. Strong performances, too, come from the rest of this 18-member ensemble, with Grace Gummer especially fine as Mary Page's unconventional mother.
Jessica Derschowitz, Entertainment Weekly: Letts, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner for August: Osage County, leaves breadcrumbs throughout the script that foreshadow things the future Mary Pages will have to deal with, or fill in blanks on events that happened earlier. When an older Mary Page, played in the later decades of her life by Orange is the New Black's Blair Brown, tells a nurse she only has one child, the question of why she doesn't mention her son is left unanswered, until it isn't. Director Lila Neuberger (who has quickly become a Name You Should Know with her work on The Wolves, The Antipodes, After the Blast, and Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo) deftly threads these stories and women (woman?) together. Scenic design from Laura Jellinek allows the flashes forward and backward to run seamlessly against a paneled, neutral background, with some clever touches - like a liquor cabinet that gets frequent use from Mary Page's parents, overlapping into her own eventual home and struggle with drinking.
Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: The quality of Letts' writing comes in the zeroing in on specifics to reveal the greater contours of Mary Page's character. The frustration watching the play is in the bittiness and static feel of the staging.
Components of Laura Jellinek's staging come in and come off in dulling, mechanized fashion. The set is two-tiered and so bits of it are empty and slightly lost until they are used. These odd design and directorial choices detract from the writing and performances.
But director Lila Neugebauer (whose packed recent CV of The Wolves, At Home at the Zoo, Everybody, and The Antipodes showed differently distinctive commands of innovative staging) has one visual trick, a gathering of the Mary Pages near the end, which makes absolute dramatic sense.
Roma Torre, NY1: The fine 18 member cast is led by the six Mary's. Blair Brown in three scenes is, as always, a natural wonder on the stage. Tatiana Maslany, the Emmy winning star of "Orphan Black" is making an impressive Off-Broadway debut. Susan Pourfar is wonderfully nuanced as a well-intentioned mom in a downward spiral. And Kelly Overbey and David Aaron Baker, in their one scene, provide the cathartic gut-punch as Mary Page finally hits rock bottom.
Fans of "August Osage County" may be disappointed with this one. "Mary Page Marlowe" is a much more subtle drama, lacking the wild humor and tonal shifts that made "August Osage..." such a favorite. But it is a work that demands your attention and, ultimately, self-reflection.
David Cote, Observer: Letts is too skilled a writer for individual scenes and passages not to shine in isolation, but the whole leaves you unsatisfied. It's a pity, because Mary Page Marlowe's philosophical undercarriage has potential: No person or force controls our destiny, and we think ourselves integrated, but we play many roles over a lifetime. I suppose you could give Letts credit for an experiment that could never be successful. He's writing a protagonist who's passive and fragmented, a bit player in her own story. "I always thought I was a stronger person," Mary admits through tears, crumbling to the floor. It's a powerful moment in a play peppered with them, but only makes you wish there were more climaxes, more reasons to root for Mary. Suppressing dramatic pleasure to underscore life's chaotic randomness, Letts achieved something, but I'm not entirely sure it was worth it.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Tightly constructed as a 90-minute one act without a single non-essential scene, the drama closes with an episode not from the end of Mary Page's life but from at least a decade earlier, an exchange both layered with meaning and crisply, happily quotidian. It's a perfect summation of a play that is simultaneously expansive and a work of detailed miniaturist portraiture. When all the Mary Pages appear onstage together, drifting by one another as if in a dream, it's an almost unbearably moving image. It also serves as a contemplative prompt for us to follow Didion's advice, to think back on the younger selves that have brought us to where we are now and where we're headed.
As of this past spring, producing company Second Stage has expanded and now runs a small Broadway theater dedicated to the work of living American Playwrights. This is exactly the kind of play that belongs there.