WASHINGTON, April 14, 2013 – I had the privilege of seeing the Broadway play, Testament of Mary, this past Wednesday evening at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City.
It is written by Colm Tóibín and stars the illustrious Fiona Shaw who gives an astonishing performance as Mary, mother of Jesus. Deborah Warner is the visionary director of the production.
Living in New York City and working in theatre, I have the great fortune of seeing many wonderful shows and performances, though much of what I see rarely involves religious themes. I knew from the first time I saw the poster for this show, Shaw’s face with Jesus’ crown of thorns wrapped around her mouth like a gag, that I had to see it.
When the opportunity to attend a performance presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
I have no doubt that Shaw’s astounding performance will be talked about for decades, and the play itself raised many questions for me as I watched something that pushed boundaries for me as a Christian. I heard through the grapevine that this one-woman show essentially took the stance of Mary as a grieving mother of a man who she did not believe to be the messiah.
I knew this going in, and so went with a certain curiosity of how this would play out.
I was truly drawn in by the play and Shaw’s portrayal of a mother, essentially under a forced house arrest, grieving for the untimely, tragic, and gruesome death of the son she loved. While I was not remotely offended by the play in terms of the character of Mary not believing that her son Jesus was Christ (art should be free to be whatever it is), I did realize that as I watched the play I was uncomfortable because it was not the story I wanted to hear.
That was a really interesting paradox for me, to watch a new version of a familiar story told in a deeply unfamiliar way. I would imagine that some in the audience were offended, but for me to see this woman grieving so deeply for someone who she thought wasted his life with a preventable death, rather than having saved the world with it, just felt so very very tragic.
And that is not the story I want to hear, which is precisely why it is so important that Shaw and Warner are telling it.
The Testament of Mary is pushing the boundaries of what we think we know, and even if it’s not how we’d like to see Mary, we at least get to hear this version of her talk at length.
Watching the production made me question why the bible doesn’t have more of Mary’s direct voice in it, especially if in theory she’s the second most important earthly person in the New Testament.
What did happen to Mary’s side of the story? The play portrays her as being hushed by Jesus’ apostles, who do not want her recollections told, and I left with questions as to if and why that might have been.
I still see Christ as the Messiah, but I think many might find this rounded portrayal of his grief-stricken mother a thought provoking and must see piece of theatre.
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