Cara Winter has spent almost twenty years acting in the professional theater. She holds a BFA in Acting from New York University / Tisch School of the Arts, and is a member of Actors Equity Association. Now primarily a writer, Cara has garnered a handful of awards including winning the 2015 People's Pilot and the 2013 Spec Scriptacular, and was a Finalist in ScreenCraft's 2015 Pilot Launch competition. Cara is currently 'shopping' three original TV pilots to various networks and production companies, as well as writing her first feature-length screenplay. www.cara-winter.com
(left to right) Madeline Weinstein (Wendy Gilbert), Jack Edwards (Louis Gilbert) and Rebecca Spence (Mary Page Marlowe). Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Her name was not Mary Page Marlowe; it was Peggy. I was two years old, and middle-aged housewife Peggy was my all-time favorite person. We were neighbors, and every day I would run over to her house, sit in her lap, and we would chat. At the time, she was raising (as I recall) three entitled, snot-nosed teenagers – so she probably relished the uncomplicated, unconditional love of a preschooler. She seemed to hang on my every syllable, as if the words I uttered made the world. I was round and chatty, and she smoked and wore a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt; we were a match made in heaven.
I thought of Peggy, who’s been gone now for a decade, after seeing the masterful and insightful play MARY PAGE MARLOWE by Tracy Letts (now playing at the Steppenwolf Theatre, thru May 29th).
MARY PAGE MARLOWE is snippets from one woman’s life (played by six different actresses), a woman said to be ‘unremarkable’, a thrice-married CPA with two kids and a drinking problem. But I didn’t feel that I was watching a play about someone unremarkable, at all. I felt I was watching the story of a thousand women, of a hundred thousand women, maybe a million women — women who lost and found themselves a dozen times over, in their lifetimes. Women who can’t please their mothers, or become their mothers; who can’t please their children, or be their children; who can’t please themselves, or be themselves. Women capable of more, but lacking some essential element to make it so; like maybe equal footing, or a society that sees them as people.
To exactly no one’s surprise, there are several excellent performances in this production. The first scene, especially, in which Rebecca Spence plays Mary Page at age 40, is both moving and hilarious, at once realistic, and theatrical. The stand-out performance, however, is that of Tony Award winner Blair Brown, who plays Mary Page ages 59 +. Ms. Brown was so understated, yet so spectacular, that my only critique of the play is that she wasn’t utilized more.
The sparse and economic scenic design by Todd Rosenthal was (again, to no one’s surprise) quite perfect; as we peer into Mary Page’s living room, local restaurant, or hospital room over the course of six decades, each couch, each booth, and each bed feeling exactly right. Lighting by Marcus Doshi could be a tad melodramatic at times, but overall did serve to remind us that each scene was, in its own way, a watershed moment. Original Music by Diana Lawrence rounded things out, carefully composed to echo Mary Page’s longings and mistakes. And Costumes by Linda Roethke were inspired, understated and well informed, right down to the state of Mary Page’s hair. I’ll never know if this was one person’s idea, or a collaboration between playwright, director, costumer, and/or actors, but Mary in her younger years brushes her hair lovingly, and frequently… but by middle age it’s forgotten about, disheveled and chaotic, the last thing on her mind. Who’d have thought it; that a character’s hair could be a perfect metaphor for a long life, not always well-lived?
In MARY PAGE MARLOWE, someone accuses (or, maybe just casually states) that Mary Paige is unremarkable, and she agrees with them. “Someone else could have written my diary,” she says. In that moment, I thought about Peggy, and how loved she made me feel when I was small. That feeling, and our strange little kinship, was the opposite of ‘unremarkable’, to me. I’m fairly certain that each person who takes the time to see MARY PAGE MARLOWE will be reminded of something deeply personal; someone they knew, or something that happened to them, or a do-over they might like to take a stab at. Mr. Letts’ remarkable play shines, in that it holds up a mirror to us, reminding us of our own frailties, hopes and dreams, and maybe also the frailties, hopes and dreams of someone we once loved.
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