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Oh, Mary!

  • Theater, Comedy
  • Lucille Lortel Theatre, West Village
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Conrad Ricamora and Cole Escola in Oh, Mary!
Photograph: Courtesy Emilio MadridOh, Mary!

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Cole Escola's gleefully irreverent comedy is the funniest play in years.

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

Cole Escola’s Oh, Mary! is not just funny: It is dizzyingly, breathtakingly funny, the kind of funny that ambushes your body into uncontained laughter. Stage comedies have become an endangered species in recent decades, and when they do pop up they tend to be the kind of funny that evokes smirks, chuckles or wry smiles of recognition. Not so here: I can’t remember the last time I saw a play that made me laugh, helplessly and loudly, as much as Oh, Mary! did—and my reaction was shared by the rest of the audience, which burst into applause at the end of every scene. Fasten your seatbelts: This 80-minute show is a fast and wild joy ride.

Escola has earned a cult reputation as a sly comedic genius in their dazzling solo performances (Help! I’m Stuck!) and on TV shows like At Home with Amy Sedaris, Difficult People and Search Party. But Oh, Mary!, their first full-length play, may surprise even longtime fans. In this hilariously anachronistic historical burlesque, Escola plays—who else?—Mary Todd Lincoln, in the weeks leading up to her husband’s assassination. Boozy, vicious and miserable, the unstable and outrageously contrary Mary is oblivious to the Civil War and hell-bent on achieving stardom as—what else?—a cabaret singer. 

Oh, Mary! | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid

Described by the long-suffering President Lincoln as “my foul and hateful wife,” this virago makes her entrance snarling and hunched with fury, desperate to find a bottle she has hidden in a White House office; storming the stage in a black hoop skirt, with dark curls framing her pale round face, she suggests a porcelain doll come to wicked life and determined to bedevil everyone she crosses. Mary’s intensely mercurial nature—her mood can swing in an instant from savage to sentimental—is an ideal match for Escola’s magnetic combination of zaniness and poise, of knowing distance and total moment-to-moment commitment. Their sensibility is steeped in the camp culture of yesteryear, but it doesn’t stay immersed; a mischievous modern streak continually pokes through the surface. The effect is bewitching: Escola lights up the stage like a full moon. 

But other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how is the play? Happily, it’s a transhistorical delight: a very 21st-century comedy about a 19th-century tragedy as filtered through a lens of 20th-century movie dramas. Director Sam Pinkleton never lets the comic energy flag, and the supporting cast is delicious. Conrad Ricamora plays the not-so-honest Abe, consumed with lust for a young male underling (Tony Macht); James Scully is a handsome drama coach with whom Mary strikes up a forbidden romance, and Bianca Leigh is Mary’s prim chaperone. It would be unsporting to spoil any of the comic twists—some of them cheerily raunchy—that the play springs on the audience, but everything comes together to create an instant downtown classic. Entering the Lucille Lortel Theatre, you walk over the names of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch, two camp-comedy legends honored on the Playwrights' Sidewalk outside the venue. With Oh, Mary!, Escola stakes a strong claim to being the next step. 

Oh, Mary! Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Cole Escola. Directed by Sam Pinkleton. With Escola, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Bianca Leigh, Tony Macht. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. 

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Oh, Mary! | Photograph: Courtesy Emilio Madrid

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


Event website:
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St
New York
Cross street:
between Bleecker and Hudson Sts
Subway: 1 to Christopher St–Sheridan Sq

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