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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
It's not the most believable story. Crazy Mary now being given its world premiere at Playwrights Horizon, has even A. R. Gurney, that seasoned chronicler of Buffalo based WASPdom lean on credibility stretching plot developments and resort to an ending that allows issues to fade away rather than be addressed. It is, however, blessed with the piquant combination of Kristine Nielsen and Sigourney Weaver as two women whose privileged childhoods made both different and yet, as Weaver's Lydia puts it above "leftovers from another way of life."
Kristine Nielsen's wonderfully funny and touching portrayal of Mary and Weaver as her seemingly acclimated to modern life cousin Lydia make you willing to overlook the too quirky and far out aspects of this latest Gurney Buffalo family saga. It's the tale of a poor little rich girl incarcerated in a gilded cage (at Boston mansion transformed into a sanitorium for the trust fund supported crazies) who's recalled to life when the money-strapped cousin now in charge of her sizeable trust fund comes calling with her son, a junior at Harvard.
Nielsen brings out all the emotional shades in the woman too fragile to deal with life's cruel blows (dealt her by a rigidly unsympathetic family) — from mute zombie to gradually waking sleeping beauty, to a bubbly " born-again" eager to taste life.— As Nielsen manages to make Mary hilariously wacky but also tragic, so Sigourney Weaver is not just a self-serving relative unmoved by her childhood playmate's restricted life. To be sure, she's no saint. Her own reduced financial circumstances prompt her to take an active interest in the well-being of the second cousin (or to be more exact, her money). Her ambitions for the son who's not making the most of his Harvard scholarship smack of super pragmatism, nagging WASP-ingrained anti-Semitism. But she's more weak than villainous with a heart that, if not solid gold, is sterling silver.
Director Jim Simpson keeps things moving along, from Lydia and her wise-cracking son Skip's (an endearing, sensitive Michael Esper ) first visit to the psychiatric institution and through her transformation and its aftermath. But this reunion for him, Weaver and Gurney is entertaining but not quite the triumph of Mrs. Farnsworth at Simpson's own Flea Theater in Tribeca. (Mrs. Farnsworth review).
Seasoned playwright that he is, Gurney develops his characters with sure, quick brush strokes that set the scene for the surprising events to follow. Okay, so the mutual needs connection between Skip and Mary isn't all that surprising, especially for anyone who remembers the movie Harold and Maude. But the relationship between Mary and Skip is saved from ùber-quirkiness by Nielsen's sad to droll ebullience (her shifting moods effectively supported by Claudia Brown's costumes) and Esper's genuineness as a young man rejecting both his mother's outdated world and the standard issue success goals of his own generation.
To round out the cast, there are the only people we meet from the staff of the psychiatric facility (elegantly designed by John Lee Beatty): The genial, note-taking Dr. Jerome (Mitchell Greenberg) and Pearl, the motherly African-American nurse ( Myra Lucretia Taylor) who good-naturedly goes along with an endless gimmick about pretending to be an Irish maid. I can't imagine any mental health professional with more than one of those mail order graduate degree mill degrees condoning Skip and Mary's risk-fraught outings but Greenberg is a good enough actor to make Dr. Jerome likeable if not very competent.
Perhaps to please the audiences who've come to expect Gurney to take government policies to task (especially during his outings at Simpson's Flea Theater), Crazy Mary does a bit of Bush-bashing. However, it's so minor as to seem out of place.
As people like Mary as well as her more tightly wrapped cousin Lydia are "leftovers" from a by-gone era, so are playwrights like A. R. Gurney who can turn out a large body of work and count on having the good, the bad and the in between produced. How one wishes that more of today's young playwrights had that ability to keep testing their work on audiences and to have the freedom to fail in order to succeed.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide