Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (935-973), a Catholic Canoness, was a remarkable woman and ahead of her time: she was the first female German poet, the first female historian and the first person since the fall of the Roman Empire to write plays in the western world. Among her six plays is “Abraham, or the Rise and Repentance of Mary.” Nowhere in the one page program for The Playwrights Realm production of Emma Horwitz’s Mary Gets Hers is it made clear that this is a modern version of this early play. Performed by an all-female cast, one would assume that the play is a feminist statement but other than the fact that Mary is taken advantage of by all the men she meets (which is likely historically accurate for its time period) is there any feminist doctrine.
From the acting style, as directed by Josiah Davis, the play seems to be a spoof. Unfortunately, it is not funny though the actors cheerfully mug their way through Horwitz’s text as though they find it hilarious. Its Middle Ages protagonist Mary played by Haley Wong is so naïve and unsophisticated that it is difficult to believe her portrayal. Much of the dialogue is very repetitious and becomes tedious while the plot is so emaciated that it is a wonder that it takes 80 minutes of playing time.
The story adapted from Hrotsvitha concerns eight-year-old Mary who wakes up to find both her parents have died of the Plague. Just when her ability to cope on her own is running out, she if found by Abraham, a local hermit, who is looking for his brother who was Mary’s father. He takes her to his hermitage or monastery and sequesters her inside his cell where she lives praying for the next four years. Bored with this life, Mary runs away and finds a friendly Inn Keeper who is attracted to her youth and beauty.
When next we see her, Mary has become a prostitute with a well-cared for life, unaware that the men who seek her out are paying for her services and not in love with her. After two years Abraham trades clothes with a soldier and comes to find her and returns her to her life of piety and prayer. While Mary gloried in her unsaintly way of life, it is hard to see this as the religious parable that was originally intended.
Under Davis’ unimaginative direction, the cast is uniformly one-dimensional, with the actresses aping male behavior without being particularly masculine. Wong’s Mary is rather charming but not given a great deal to do. The lines for Susannah Perkins’ Abraham and fellow hermit Ephraim (played by Octavia Chavez-Richmond) are expected to have the same conversations over and over again which is rather boring and not illustrative of life in the Middle Ages. As the greedy and dishonest Master of the Inn, Claire Siebers is seen smoking a cigarette throughout which seems intrusive an anachronistic rather than witty. Kai Heath’s Soldier is simply a device to find Mary and to give Abraham an outfit other that his brown cassock which defines him as clergy.
While Camilla Dely’s costumes are probably historically correct they are drab in the extreme. The sets by You-Shin Chen are minimally suitable but not very interesting. Cha See’s lighting gets the most workout with the many scene cues. While Mary Gets Hers might have had historical relevance if performed in a different style, The Playwrights Realm production appears to be a comedy that did not find itself. At only 80 minutes, the play seems inordinately long for its plot. At times various actors appear to be about to break up in laughter but we are never in on the joke.
Mary Gets Hers (extended through October 14, 2023)
The Playwrights Realm
The Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater in The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 W. 52nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-506-9313 or visit http://www.mcctheater.org
Running time: one hour and 25 minutes without an intermission