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Rachel McAdams excels as a tormented mother in medical drama 'Mary Jane'

Rachel McAdams excels as a tormented mother in medical drama 'Mary Jane'


Amy Herzog's magnificent play Mary Jane is, at its core, a study of the extraordinary efforts made by a mother to care for her child. But the lessons learned from his time at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater go far beyond this accomplishment. You leave after 90 minutes with an almost overwhelming awareness of the unfairness of life.

You wonder again why some moms stand in playgrounds on beautiful fall afternoons while their children run and laugh even while others with the same well of love inside are obliged of dealing with hospital beds and code blues, the ups and downs of changing diagnoses. , live-in nurses, drug regimens and hospital music therapists who cannot be found in time.

Mary Jane, which now stars the excellent Rachel McAdams in the title role and was first seen at the New York Theater Workshop in 2017, is a closely observed play, reflecting the same attention to detail that its title character pays to her child, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The play, to be clear, is not about the child (whom we never fully see), but about his mother and her experience caring for her child first at home and then in the hospital. The writer draws inspiration from his own experience with a sick child, and watching this journey, you constantly think that Herzog must have had this same conversation. They are all too visceral to have been made from scratch.

Rachel McAdams (left) and Brenda Wehle in “Mary Jane” on Broadway.

Matthew Murphy

Rachel McAdams (left) and Brenda Wehle in “Mary Jane” on Broadway. (Matthew Murphy)

There's a distressing scene with a music therapist (Lily Santiago), which serves as a reminder of how one woman's busy day can be another's definitional tragedy. But the strongest of these scenes is that of a conversation with a doctor, played with clinical acuity by April Matthis. The subtext of the scene is that the doctor, leaving room for hope, is gently trying to make the mother aware of her child's bleak prospects and thus to better weigh the risks and benefits. Herzog's skills as a writer mean that you feel the conversation alongside McAdam's character, that you are with him on a journey that no one wants to take.

Medical dramas are very difficult to stage in a theater for all sorts of reasons. But Anne Kauffman (with the help of Lael Jellinek's simple but emotionally rich design) calibrates this one with an authenticity unfamiliar with hospital procedures. There's an exquisite understanding here of the feeling Karen Carpenter expressed when she sang Don't They Know It's the End of the World?, the bizarre disconnect felt by those experiencing family stress when the world refuses to come together. stop or even slow down. Why do birds keep singing? Indeed. But they still do it.

April Mathis (left) and Rachel McAdams in “Mary Jane” on Broadway.

Matthew Murphy

April Mathis (left) and Rachel McAdams in “Mary Jane” on Broadway. (Matthew Murphy)

Mary Jane is a personal assistant struggling to care for her child and hold down her job, and McAdams has a round, cheerful face, cheerful voice, and infectious smile. The power of the performance lies in McAdams' ability to deglamorize himself without letting it undermine this character's tremendous optimism: how could all this happen to him? you continue to think, letting the play make you think about what Mary Jane's life would have been like without this challenge.

Herzog writes about a mother who talks to relieve stress and prevent her own depression, and she shares some of that compassion with a few other characters, including another hospital mother, Chaya, played by Susan Pourfar. This carefully calibrated and furiously unsentimental scene, intimate but uncomfortable between two women of diverse experiences, will be familiar to anyone who has built an unlikely relationship in a hospital or nursing home.

Only the last scene, between Mary Jane and a chaplain (Brenda Wherl) doesn't quite ring true. It's not clear that the writer knows what she wants to say about non-earthly matters, and so the scene gets stuck in a rabbit hole.

But life as a parent in this world, loving a child in difficulty? It's hard to think of another Broadway show that gets it quite as well.




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