“Mary,” written by Thomas Bradshaw, is daring, controversial, and easily loved or hated. I adored it. You simply cannot walk into the theatre with preconceived agitation otherwise you’ll miss the beauty of taking such a risk. It is performed on the Owen stage, presenting delicate subjects in an engaging way, leaving the audience with a lot to think about. Set in the early 1980’s, we meet a gay couple David (Alex Weisman) and Jonathon (Eddie Bennett) who visit David’s family in southern Maryland. Although his parents are suspicious, David hasn’t formerly announced that he is gay. This homosexual relationship becomes an afterthought while eating dinner when Jonathon witnesses David’s mother nonchalantly referring to their domestic worker as “nigger Mary.” David’s concern with this issue boils over, asking Mary her opinions of her position in the house. She seems unconcerned with her stature, but her deeply religious beliefs lead her to be far more concerned about a gay relationship. Later Mary does express the desire to learn to read and saying, perhaps the most powerful line of the play, “Emancipation is a lie.”
As mentioned, it’s of vital importance to know that the characters in “Mary” have opinions that most audience members will disagree with or will even find offensive. But there aren’t many writers that are courageous enough to explore the depths of racism and homosexuality and somehow keep the audience laughing. Particularly Mary’s views on gay relationships are very contrary to today’s society which is much more accepting. Without comparing your views to Mary’s, it is really quite interesting to listen to her beliefs. Likewise, David’s mom has a strict opinion on racism, especially since she considers Mary’s position at the household to be nothing out of the ordinary. Her outlook is outwardly racist. It helps paint this ridiculous picture with vivid colors and most importantly gets the audience thinking about this delicate material. It forces you to consider the fact that discrimination has left a sour remembrance in our history. Simply put, if you can put your beliefs to the side for the duration of this rather short production, you will walk away with a broader insight as you have just seen a play that dares to cross into dangerous territory.
By using likeable characters and artistic presentations, the controversial nature of “Mary” is much easier to accept. Gay, straight, bisexual, or none of the above, it’s absolutely impossible not to fall in love with the flamboyant and colorful relationship that Jonathon and David have. Although their relationship is scandalous and harshly criticized, they are the life in a play that has many dark topics. Whether David passionately plays his violin for about five seconds or Jonathon gives the most priceless expression at dinner with “nigger Mary,” they prove that unconventional relationships are possible. Likewise, Mary remains close to your heart despite her fixed opinions about homosexuality. Especially when she is finally given the opportunity to learn to read, a momentous amount of happiness can only be felt for someone who has endured such an injustice so silently. Artistically, the gradual acceptance of Mary as a member of the family instead of a servant is displayed in a unique and memorable way.
A disappointing ending, however, almost ruined the entire production. To conclude a play that successfully engage the viewers with a final, blatant, offensive blow may have been a way for Bradshaw to continue the unexpected nature of his work, but for me was unnecessary. Ending included, however, Bradshaw’s piece was memorable in its potent effect, daring subject matter, and courageous creativity.