Monday, March 20, 2023
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Mary Jane by Amy Herzog plus two pet peeves

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for

This newest play by Amy Herzog and directed by Anne Kauffman features a cast of five women spearheaded by Carrie Coon as Mary Jane. You wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.

She is strong, cheerful and most probably in denial – afraid to actually face the horrors that she deals with so matter-of-factly. She is thankfully healthy. She has decided to lovingly take care of her three year old son who from a premature birth has been stricken with what amounts to an incurable disease.

Alex needs constant care. He is monitored by a machine in what used to be Mary Jane’s bedroom. She now sleeps on a pull out sofa bed. The beeping machine alerts her to any problems from an unseen Alex in the other room– even in the middle of the night. He is also on a feeding machine. He likes his goldfish. And music.

Mary Jane has had to forego her teaching career and now works for a real estate company. Her husband has abandoned them. Her superintendent (Brenda Wehle) is attempting to unclog her kitchen sink as we meet her. Mary Jane is a good listener. Others have problems too.

They include the home healthcare nurse Sherry (Liza Colon-Zayas) and Brianne (Susan Pourfar) a friend who shares a similar situation with her child and is having a tough time navigating how to go about solving her problems. Our pleasant steadfast heroine deals with them all.

Even the niece of the nurse Amelia (Danaya Esperanza) who arrives to visit. When an emergency occurs we are transported to the hospital from Mary Jane’s living room (the set design by Laura Jellinek threatens to overtake the proceedings – and must cost big bucks for such an intimate play) In any event we are now in the hospital where the actresses other than Carrie Coon take on new personas.

The best scene in the play is between Mary Jane and Chaya (a terrific Susan Pourfar) an Orthodox Jewish woman. It is tender, compelling and amusing. Chaya has seven children one of whom is in the hospital and these two women bond immediately.

Brenda Wehle becomes a Buddhist chaplain where the sex of the goldfish is explored. The play ends ambiguously. This gets people talking about what happened or what didn’t happen as they leave the theatre.

All this brings me to my pet peeve that it is sometimes extremely difficult to hear these actresses. Maybe it’s the acoustics of the theater. Maybe my hearing – although others agreed with me. More likely they are used to close-ups and amplification. Not projection. And sometimes it is the director who has someone speaking upstage so we miss vital information. To make matters worse the sound therapist for a short while wears a hospital half mask. She then sings Alex a song…

Second pet peeve: Have you ever wondered how reviewers are so specific with quoting lines and details? They have the script available to read. Audiences do not. If you don’t understand and get the play without reference material to check – that’s not as it should be. The audience is at a disadvantage when clarity in the vocal department could help remedy the situation tremendously.

MARY JANE is produced in association with Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut. 95 minutes – no intermission. Just extended through October 29th

Photo: Joan Marcus