Savage, hysterical and often repulsive, Maria/Stuart takes the suburban family drama to grotesque extremes. A family tries to throw a birthday party for their Grandma Ruthie (Susan Monts-Bologna) but must face the secrets they’ve kept buried. The familiar deep dark mysteries here take the form of a shape-shifting, soda-guzzling, German-speaking monster. The family, meanwhile, holds so tightly to denial that tantrums and food flinging become the only viable release. Family dramas are messy, yes, but it would be hard to think of one that features such gastronomical carnage—or one that makes its nastiness so endearing.
The messiness does have its limits. During the first act, the play builds an enticing atmosphere and raises a slew of compelling questions. In the second half, though, it starts to spin its wheels. The uniformly brilliant performances don’t quite distract from the play’s turn to a circular structure, repeating itself without pushing the story forward. When it’s finally time to settle accounts, the show feels less like it’s risen to a climax and more like it’s hit the same wall so many times it’s finally had enough. Still, it’s refreshing to see a play so unafraid of making a mess of itself and an ensemble daring and capable enough to pull it off.