This Virgin Mother isn’t a saint, however. No, not in this play. She’s no martyr. This Mary is incensed. She’s lonely and devastated. This Mary breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to her audience, confessing all her sins as she tells the story of the end of her son’s life. And this Mary has major doubts and regrets.
“I can’t say his name,” she says, rubbing her hands together. “If I say his name, something will break inside of me. I’m sure of it.” Because to her, Jesus, the man who died on the cross for everyone’s sins, was more than a god. He was her son. Graci’s performance is never more powerful than when she talks about her son’s first months in her womb, cradling her empty stomach as she doubles over in distress.
The setting inside PURE’s small theater space is pared down and intimate. As Mary tells her tale she keeps consistent eye contact with the audience, sitting a few feet away. The story she tells is her story, but it’s also a human story.
Mary, too, is pared down. Wearing a long, flesh-colored dress that she twists and wrings throughout the play, Graci is subtle. Understated. Her hair’s a tangled mess, and her makeup is neutral. Even still she’s beautiful and elegant. Her eyes are particularly emotive, and her body flows from ramrod-straight postures to those more fidgety, hunched over. She dances on the edge of a knife’s blade of sanity.
Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín, the writing of the play is beautiful, engaging. Shifting from the tale of Lazarus’s resurrection to the crucifixion of Christ, Mary is laden with doubts about the “miracles” performed by her son. Was the water truly turned into wine? Should a man come back from the dead? “Who is saved?” she asks near the end, her voice ringing with visceral pain in a silent theater. “He redeemed the world. What world? Was it worth it?”
Though the story takes place in ancient times, its themes are contemporary. Consider the recent shooting in Santa Barbara. Could Mary not be speaking of our world when she says things like, “Any time I have seen more than two men together, I have seen foolishness and cruelty.” And of her son, Jesus Christ, she speaks with wonder and surprise: “He could look at a women as though she was his equal.”
In the end, we see from whence her doubt has sprung. The resurrection of Christ was just a dream, at least to this Mary. His miraculous revival of Lazarus destroyed all the rules of the world. His calling himself the Son of God? No. Jesus Christ was the son of Mary, at least in her eyes.
This play in the hands of a lesser actress would be tedious. In Graci’s hands, it was beautiful, compelling. The audience barely moved, barely shifted in their seats, through the whole of the play’s 90 minutes. And at no point was Graci more compelling when, sitting down in a stark wooden chair, she admits that it was not worth it. Not to her. Not the death of her son.