Review: In ‘Mary Jane,’ a Young Mother Faces Her Worst Fears

That chipper phrase is a clue to Mary Jane’s character. Though she has turned the bedroom of her Jackson Heights apartment into a pediatric ward, and makes do with a foldout sofa in the living room, she is so uncomplaining and willfully blasé that her refusal to surrender to distress seems almost pathological. She expresses more concern about the effects of heavy rain on a visitor’s garden than about her precarious income and Swiss-cheese sleep. Anger and why-me-ism are beyond her; she even forgives the husband who, unable to deal with the calamity, fled. “I hope he finds some peace; I really do,” she says.

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Carrie Coon, left, and Susan Pourfar in “Mary Jane.”

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

All of this is portrayed in a rush of upbeat charm by Carrie Coon, a notable Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and more recently acclaimed for simultaneous performances on “The Leftovers” and “Fargo.” Here, she is excellent surfing the crests of the character’s chatter regardless of the tides churning beneath. The upshot feels like mania or at least denial: In the series of home visits by four other women that structure the first half of the play, she all but enforces a convivial tone, as if they were besties meeting post-work at a wine bar.

Without undercutting the weird dignity of that response, or squashing the humor it sometimes produces, the director Anne Kauffman keeps the audience anxiously awaiting a plunge. This anxiety is introduced surreptitiously, with just sound (by Leah Gelpe) and light (by Japhy Weideman). How strange and pregnant are those implacable beeps from the bedroom, how sharp the shards of moonglow that greet Mary Jane when she wakes up to respond.

By comparison, the dialogue at first seems merely random, as do the visitors; Ms. Herzog is emphasizing the one-thing-then-another dailiness of extended disaster.

But a pattern soon emerges. Ruthie, her building’s super, worries about the tension Mary Jane is absorbing in her body. (“That’s how my sister got cancer,” she offers.) Sherry, Alex’s primary home care nurse, makes more of the boy’s temperature spikes than Mary Jane dares. Amelia, Sherry’s niece, is startled by Mary Jane’s exuberant warmth. And Brianne, the mother of a child with a similar condition, almost collapses under the weight of a can-do pep talk.

These women, brought to…

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