Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crazy Mary (The SOB Review)

Crazy Mary (The SOB Review) - Playwrights Horizons, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

Call me crazy, but I found this unconventional new A.R. Gurney comedy as presented Off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons to be surprisingly tender and moving with uniformly superb performances.

Crazy Mary finds Lydia (Sigourney Weaver), a scheming scion of faded Buffalo society, gold digging within her own extended family. Recently divorced and determined to get her hands on what money remains among her blood relatives, she and her son Skip (Michael Esper) -- a Harvard student -- call on her second cousin once removed Mary (Kristine Nielsen). While Mary is the sole heir to the family fortune, she's been under lock and key in an insane asylum for over thirty years.

Weaseling her way in by claiming to be Mary's legal guardian, Lydia threatens the asylum's doctor (Mitchell Greenberg) and demands to see Mary. Accompanied by her nurse (Myra Lucretia Taylor), Mary appears catatonic. It's only after Skip plays "You Are My Sunshine" at the piano that Mary responds. In fact, Skip becomes the key to unlocking Mary's personality.

What transpires is perhaps the most unusual pairing since "Harold And Maude" with Skip taking Mary on extended, unsupervised field trips outside the loony bin, whether it's to buy new clothes and get her hair done or to visit the ancestral home and remaining gardens in Cooperstown. Mary turns out to be quite an impetuous live wire, leaving us to ponder whether she would have been committed under the same circumstances in today's world. Skip fancifully reconsiders his own future, letting obligations at school and with his girlfriend slide.

Implausibly, Mary's doctor seems to have little issue with these developments, as he is more intent on chronicling these developments for book he's writing. However, Lydia is repulsed and intervenes with ramifications on the blood money itself.

While I found the play moving, the script isn't always as lucid as it should be. For example, it's rather doubtful that a psychiatrist would have acquiesced so easily to the whims of a patient like Mary wishing to be let out. There's also several instances of non-essential non sequiturs uttered by Skip and Lydia about George W. Bush that have no real place in the story, other than simply enabling Gurney to tell us how he feels about the current Administration -- instead of helping the narrative, they seem more like a case of dramatic Tourette's syndrome. And then there's the truly crazy notion that borderline incest is practically nothing.

Yet, thanks to Jim Simpson's nimble direction, this comedy delivers an exceptional mix of pathos and laughs at all the right places (save for the gentleman behind me who guffawed at the most inappropriate moments). Simpson helps the impeccable cast to truly rise above the material and show us their heart.

Chief among them is Nielsen, who imbues her Mary with a stunning degree of volatility, astonishingly transforming before our eyes. When she first appeared in a stupor, I found her gaze staring straight through me. As Skip, Esper delivered a phenomenally heartfelt performance. And as the manic Lydia, Weaver made me wonder whether the wrong individual had been committed.

So while the story itself is a bit unbalanced, this Crazy Mary is definitely worth checking out. But you'd better hurry -- there's only one more performance left before this extended limited run closes this evening.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets (seats are very limited).

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