Mary Jane
Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy | Mary Jane
  • Theater, Drama
  • Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Midtown West
  • Recommended


Mary Jane

5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

“Nothing to do except wait,” explains Mary Jane (Rachel McAdams) to Amelia (Lily Santiago), a college student visiting her small Queens apartment. “I’m glad to have your company.” Mary Jane is a single mother with a severely disabled toddler named Alex; he is running a fever, and Amelia’s aunt Sherry (April Mathis), a nurse, is tending to him in the back room. Exactly what they might be waiting for is a question that hangs with gray menace in Amy Herzog’s exquisite and deeply moving Mary Jane: Alex is almost certainly not getting better, and even the best-case scenarios break your heart.

Yet the play does not dwell in helplessness; it’s more interested in how people try to help. In addition to Mary Jane, there are eight other characters onstage. Mathis and Santiago reappear as, respectively, a doctor and a music therapist. Brenda Wehle is both Mary Jane’s sturdy superintendent and a Buddhist nun; Susan Pourfar plays two other mothers with disabled children. (The second, a blunt Hasidic woman, adds a welcome dash of comic relief.) There are no villains here, only people doing their best under sometimes crushing circumstances.

Mary Jane | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

All are rendered in lovely detail by Herzog and the five women of the cast, directed by Anne Kauffman with characteristic attention to the importance of offhand nuance. Information is revealed in a steady drip of medical jargon, bureaucratic obstacles and personal history; the moment-to-moment concerns in Mary Jane are often quotidian. (As a friend once advised the title character: “You’ll still have good days and bad days.”) The world of the play is unblinking but not bleak. Herzog shows the strain of Mary Jane’s situation, but she also succeeds in dramatizing kindness, attentiveness, honesty, connection.

Mary Jane’s Off Broadway premiere at New York Theatre Workshop, which was also directed by Kauffman, won the New York Drama Critics’ Award for Best Play, and was my choice for the best theater production of 2017. The intimacy of that original venue made it easier for audiences to take in the depths beneath the play’s relatively placid surface: Broadway shows often scale up feelings toward histrionics, and this one takes the opposite approach. But the play's new incarnation at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre is worth leaning into. In her New York stage debut, McAdams sometimes feels a bit light for the space (especially vocally), but that quality works for a character who is striving to maintain a happy face; she is often affecting. And the rest of the company—including original cast members Pourfar and Wehle, reproducing their priceless performances—gives her just what Mary Jane needs: strong support. 

Mary Jane | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy

Whether offstage or hidden in the monumental hospital bed of Lael Jellinek’s expert set, Alex remains unseen throughout the play. But he’s vividly described, and fiercely loved. And as circumscribed as his prospects may be, Mary Jane is not hopeless. On the contrary: Both times I’ve seen this play, I’ve felt inspired—not by heroism but by everyday decency, empathy, competence and strength. In a world that often seems far from those values, Herzog’s play shines like a candle in the dark.

Mary Jane. Golden Theatre (Broadway). By Amy Herzog. Directed by Anne Kauffman. With Rachel McAdams, April Matthis, Susan Pourfar, Lily Santiago, Brenda Wehle. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission. 

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Mary Jane | Photograph: Courtesy Matthew Murphy



Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W 47th St
New York
Cross street:
between Broadway and Eighth Ave
Subway: C, E to 50th St; N, Q, R to 49th St; 1 to 50th St

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