Thomas Bradshaw’s new piece “Mary” is a complex play regarding the everyday topics of racism and homophobia. Bradshaw’s tale quickly turns into a very deep and question-raising performance about what is appropriate and socially acceptable. This show at Goodman Theatre is certainly not for everyone; its use of such controversial topics may cause some people to be very offended.
Bradshaw’s “Mary” takes place in contemporary times, right around the 1980s during the AIDS panic through to present day. It focuses on gay couple David (Alex Weisman) and Jonathan (played by a hilarious Eddie Bennet), who go to visit David’s family’s estate, which hasn’t changed much since the 1800s. David’s family has a servant named Mary ( played by a convincing Myra Lucretia Taylor), who the viewer learns is an illiterate, uncompensated, God-fearing worker for their home. Mary and her husband, Elroy (Cedric Young), live in a cabin on the estate and David’s parents calls her by the derogatory nickname “nigger Mary,” which, according to them, is to differentiate her from their neighbor, also named Mary. Bradshaw’s use of comic irony and sarcasm is a refreshing new look on such a sensitive subject.
The set of “Mary” is slightly ineffective. Although it is a nicely put together set and a well-used space (located in The Goodman’s Owen Theatre, its smaller of the two), it failed to provide a sense of a change of scenery. I remember being disturbed when David and Jonathan decide to have an intimate moment in the middle of the living room (which at the time was supposed to be his bedroom). I’m sorry, but putting a bed in the middle of the room just doesn’t cut it.
Throughout the show, David’s parents Dolores (Barbara Garrick) and James (Scott Jaeck) play a seemingly unaware, stereotypical southern white family. With a black servant and a former plantation for an estate, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were distant and cold toward their gay son; however, David’s parents focus a lot of their time trying to get their son to come out to them. This just shows Bradshaw’s clever use of a classic stereotype broken into finer, more relatable characters and to show the complex relationship that these characters have. David and and Jonathan spend most of their vacation trying to liberate Mary intellectually and financially. Mary starts to realize that her role doesn’t have to be so submissive. She also loses some of her preconceived theories about homesexuals, starting with David.
The character Jonathan is the most down-to-earth charcter in the play; interestingly enough, he’s from Chicago. His reaction when he first is introduced to ”nigger Mary” gives some comedic relief to the audience. Much of the play consists of David’s attempts to help Mary become more equal with her employers and then educate her. When he finally does, Mary does not quite turn out how he envisioned.
Overall, Bradshaws’s innovative and provocative play “Mary” is a conversation-starting, debate-inducing piece whose ending will either be loved or hated. However, in this reviewer’s opinion, “Mary” is interesting enough to be well worth the price.