Where’s the KY Gel? It might be necessary for some to ease the rough swallow of Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary. Not that it is of any surprise that a Bradshaw play should leave the audience in a state of discomfort and maybe even paralyzed by disapproval and I’ve only had the opportunity of viewing Mary and researching the others.
Set in Maryland during a time period where the effects of the Civil Rights movement seem to have come and gone and the gay liberation movement begins to pick up speed, the play features a mouth full of crunchy controversy.
The son of wealthy parents, David (Alex Weisman) returns home from college with his friend Jonathan (Eddie Bennett), convinced that his family does not suspect is his lover. In reality, his father, James (Scott Jaeck ) and mother, Dolores (Barbara Garrick), are fully aware of their son’s lifestyle and resent him for nothing more than attempting to hide it from them. David’s reluctance towards “coming out” to his parents is justified by his living during the AIDS crisis and being raised in a family so conservative that the dinner is still served to the mother and father seated at opposite sides of a long white table by their slave. So she’s not exactly a slave but she does handle domestic duties, live in a cabin in the yard with her husband, and work… without pay. This is the way her family has lived ever since Emancipation stripped them of the formal title “slaves”.
Very religious and grounded in her convictions, Mary is troubled by David’s homosexuality. She sees it as her “God given duty to save his soul” from the eternal hellfire reserved just for homosexuals. David, meanwhile, has no idea about Mary’s intentions as his boyfriend Jonathan begins to open his eyes upon the racist lifestyle his parents have set up here in their Maryland home. David and Jonathan have some issues of their own as secrets are revealed.
This sets the plot up for its spur of conflicts including the death of David’s father, presumably from cancer. His death was played out in an interesting transition of scenes which perked up my obsession with technical theatre. In the first section, Dolores and James are seated in their chairs for dinner as Mary stands before them ready to serve their food. The next section they are in the same positions except James is gone from the table. In the next section Mary has taken James’s seat and the two women laugh and chatter all the while enjoying each other’s company. The next time the light comes up both women are seated and each are reading a book, signifying Mary’s success in the literacy class.
Bradshaw puts faces on homophobia and racism. It could be your loving and nurturing mother or her equally warm childhood friend exposing ignorance around us.
As provocative and honest as it may have been, it was not so much the play that brought me discomfort, but rather the audience. Prior to my seeing the play my mother came back and told me about her own experience as a spectator. She mentioned the elderly couple laughing right along with a gay couple at the satirical racism and ridiculous convictions presented around it. She also mentioned how the elderly couple became mute and upset at the religious ranting against homosexuality. The gay couple went so far as to get up and walk out of the theatre when Mary expressed her bizarre intentions for David’s salvation.
I was intrigued by her findings and walked into the Owen convinced to get a good look at the crowd if anything else. I didn’t see anyone walk out from my seat up in the balcony but the shift in energy between the two topics was undeniable… this scared me. I regret not being able to attend the post discussion to hear what was on people’s minds but the rest of the night I contemplated on what could be the cause of the reaction.
I came up with the theory that people were more comfortable with laughing at the racism in the play because we, as a society, see ourselves as above this issue. We are capable of making fun of our forefathers who were not as wise as us. They could not fathom the idea that it is wrong to discriminate against one another because of ethnicity or skin color. That problem is dealt with and we’ve come so far… right? On the other hand, homophobic Christians are here now. They are preventing people from marrying and participating in military and government and anything else you could imagine. This problem is not dealt with. It is rooted in our societies and people didn’t find it funny because it’s sickening that we still have not figured out that it is wrong to discriminate against one another because of sexual orientation or gender. Homophobia is yet alive, racism is not… right?
When I was first asked how I enjoyed the play I said, “I found it simple and a little insulting not so much because he focused entirely on being shocking… but that he provided no new information”. As soon as I finished my sentence I realized that Bradshaw might be on to something. The playwright created for us a raw insight into the lives of these people. He succeeded in many things; one being in pinning the audience down and soiling the pants of the racists and the homophobes so that everyone in the room could identify them with every whiff of air.