Theater review by Adam Feldman
Tracy Letts’s fascinating Mary Page Marlowe presents a portrait of its title character in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. The play’s 11 scenes, each about eight minutes long, span nearly 70 years in the life of a Midwestern baby boomer, but they are presented out of chronological order; each new piece connects to others and fills in gaps until a larger picture emerges. But the play resists its own tendency toward neatness through a central conceit: Mary Page, at various ages, is embodied by six different actors (and one prop baby), a powerfully literal rebuke to the idea of a stable self. “I’m not the person I am,” Mary Page tells a psychotherapist—and she’s certainly, obviously, not who she used to be.
Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany plays Mary Page in her twenties and thirties; we hear her dissect her joyless extramarital affairs in therapy and then watch her, later/earlier, engage in a hotel-room tryst. Susan Pourfar takes the reins for Mary Page’s forties, when she labors to raise kids, and Kellie Overbey plays her at 50, when she crashes into reality; Blair Brown takes over for the final decade of Mary Page’s life, when she has softened a bit with age and resignation. All four are excellent, as is most of the rest of the cast—18 actors in all, many appearing in only a single scene apiece.
While the play’s wide scope keeps the audience at a bird’s-eye remove, its components are vivid close-up snapshots. Director Lila Neugebauer keeps Mary Page in hard, revealing focus even as the character sometimes smudges herself in denial or passivity. (Substance abuse is a recurring issue: a need to be out of control.) Mary Page Marlowe combines moments of crisis into a longer view of time. It approaches life—this one life—with something that feels like wisdom.
Second Stage Theater (Off Broadway). By Tracy Letts. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.