In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the off-Broadway premiere of Tracy Letts’ Mary Page Marlowe. Here’s an excerpt.
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Tracy Letts is one of this country’s foremost writers, a playwright who is unafraid to explore the private lives of Americans of all kinds, from the sleazy trailer trash of “Killer Joe” to the freshly divorced misanthrope at the heart of “Linda Vista.” He is also a character actor of near-unique range who fills his plays with complex, richly nuanced roles. Yet nothing he had previously done prepared audiences for “Mary Page Marlowe,” first performed by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2016, in which he used six different women (and a doll) to portray a seemingly ordinary Ohio accountant whose life is a scrapbook of what it means to be a woman in America. I called it “the most purely beautiful play that Mr. Letts has given us” in my review of the Chicago premiere, and now that it has reached New York in a new staging of identical merit, it looks—if possible—even more impressive.
Mr. Letts’ 90-minute play, which is set between 1946 and 2015, is structured in a way that requires detailed explanation on paper. The six actors who play the title role (Blair Brown, Emma Geer, Mia Sinclair Jenness, Tatiana Maslany, Kellie Overbey, and Susan Pourfar) appear in ten of the 11 vignette-like scenes in which Mary Page is seen as a baby and at 12, 19, 27, 36, 40, 44, 50, 59, 63 and 69. Some scenes take place at key moments in her life—we see her in the hospital not long after she learns that she is going to die—while others appear at first glance to have been picked at random. Moreover, the scenes are not arranged chronologically but in an order of the author’s own devising….
If this elaborate description makes “Mary Page Marlowe” sound like an avant-garde exercise in fractured narrative, be assured that it doesn’t play that way. It unfolds simply and intelligibly, proceeding according to a dramatic logic that makes total sense to the eye and ear. What we see before us is a woman who gradually comes to understand, however haltingly and imperfectly, who and what she is….
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Read the whole thing here.
A PBS NewsHour feature about the 2016 Chicago premiere of Mary Page Marlowe: