Saturday, May 18, 2024

Broadway: Rachel McAdams Makes Her Debut in Amy Herzog’s Moving “Mary Jane”

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Amy Herzog’s tender play, “Mary Jane,” about a mother raising an ill child, demands that we slow down, take in the drama of the day-to-day.

Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams, a movie star — plays the titled role as an with Everywoman. The plays opens with Mary Jane in the kitchen of her Queens apartment with the super, Ruthie (Brenda Wehle) clearing a stubborn pipe. The dialogue is the stuff of existence starting with talk of the body and how trauma is stored in our cells.

These banalities that are familiar, and then life affirming, segueing to jobs and how things are kept in line. Mary Jane, for example, has removed the child protective bars from her windows as baby Alex — who is on a breathing tube — will not be wandering anywhere near a dangerous opening. Alex is known only by the beeps of his life support. So, this no-no is logical. Ruthie, bending the rules, has to pretend not to notice.

As Mary Jane moves toward the bedroom to check on her son (sometimes a little easy-going skip to the door is reminiscent of McAdams’ character in Wedding Crashers) the swagger of her “Mean Girls” Regina George is far away.

Apace with this play, as Mary Jane in a Broadway debut, McAdams breathes through the difficulties of caring for an ill child, politely thanking everyone for their help. Except for Kat (Lily Santiago), the music therapist who comes to the hospital when Alex lands in emergency pediatric care. Too little too late, she begins to sing “The lion sleeps tonight,” and Mary Jane loses it till the song becomes “Bluebird, bluebird, through my window.” Triggers are kept at bay.

Once you are used to the rhythms, a final transcendence has meaning. In this all-woman production directed by Anne Kauffman, all actors except for McAdams who is onstage for all of its 90 minutes, do double duty. Becoming a Buddhist priest, Tenkei (Brenda Wehle again) now ministers to Mary Jane, who answers “?” to the hospital’s question about faith. She has slipped on hospital all-whites as a spotlight illuminates her.

Theater-goers remain rapt, hushed, until a final “Ah;” the play shows us how to participate in the ministry of presence and the compassion of storytelling.

All of this is personal: Herzog and Broadway director Sam Gold (who’ve collaborated on the current production of “An Enemy of the People” just up the street) lost their eldest daughter — born in 2012 with a rare muscular disorder, nemaline myopathy — last July at the age of 11. Knowing this makes “Mary Jane” even more profound.

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