WHAT "Mary Page Marlowe"
WHERE Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St.
INFO From $30, 2ST.com, 212-246-4422
BOTTOM LINE Intricate and intriguing character study from Tracy Letts.
She calls herself "unexceptional," but the playwright thinks otherwise.
In the intricately constructed and intriguing "Mary Page Marlowe," now at 2nd Stage, Tracy Letts finds his troubled title character interesting enough to require six actresses (and one lifelike doll) to portray her as she moves through life — we see her from infancy to 69 — making choices, making mistakes, making her way.
The play drops us off midstream. We first meet Mary Page at age 40 in a moment of high tension, having breakfast in a diner as she explains to her two children the details of her upcoming divorce, which involve a move from Dayton, Ohio, to Lexington, Kentucky. This news is far more upsetting to her 16-year-old daughter, Wendy, who doesn't want to change high schools, than it is to 10-year-old Louis, who seems unfazed. Pay attention to that — it will become important.
In fact, pay attention, period. This fast-moving, 90-minute drama requires active participation by its audience. Zone out for even a second and you are apt to miss an important plot point, as Letts, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for "August: Osage County," sneaks in a single word or two that brilliantly foreshadows how the story will unfold.
To add to the potential confusion, the play is structured in a series of scrambled scenes that come at you in random order, though clearly Letts has carefully arranged them for maximum impact. The action, delineated by Laura Jellinek's spare but creative set, moves across time, from Mary Page in a crib to her college dorm, from a session with her shrink to an afternoon assignation with her boss, through a series of marriages and divorces. A current of unexplained tragedy looms.
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.
Generally, I'm a fan of short one acts, but this one left me wanting more — more details, more answers.The abrupt ending, especially, felt tacked on and unsatisfying. Mary Page Marlowe, it turns out, is someone I'd like to know better.