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Oh, Mary!

A campy, frankly sexual take on the assassination of our sixteenth president.

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Conrad Ricamora and Cole Escola in a scene from Escola’s “Oh, Mary!” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

Joel Benjamin, Critic

In Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, the blowhard character played by Alan Alda spouts, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

Is 159 years long enough to find the humor in the assassination of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln?  Certainly, if you like Helen Keller jokes.  And she’s only been dead 56 years.

No one should be sacrosanct or above satirical treatment, not even our heroes.  Everyone has feet of clay.  Cole Escola in their huge hit Oh, Mary! at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village certainly believes this.  Their over-the-top, irreverent take on Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth is so scurrilously sexual that it is difficult to avoid guffawing at their magnificent awfulness helped by Escola’s constant silly shtick and blatant playing to the audience, all of whom seemed to be having fun.

Cole Escola and Bianca Leigh in a scene from Escola’s “Oh, Mary!” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

This is not a clever take on Lincoln et al, but a chance for Escola to show off their immense talent to shock and, yes, entertain.

Escola is a fixture in the world of sketch comedy, including programs on Netflix and HBO.  Their ribald, campy sense of humor clearly appeals to the audiences thronging to the Lortel to laugh at Lincoln (Conrad Ricamora) getting a blowjob from his assistant (Tony Macht) while Mary (Escola) stands just a few feet away complaining about one thing or another, mostly avoiding Lincoln’s stern admonitions about her over indulgence in alcohol which she appears to hide in every nook and cranny of the White House.

Lincoln has burdened Mary with a chaperone (Bianca Leigh) whom Mary despises and constantly humiliates, particularly with an anecdote about her particularly bizarre use of ice cream.  He also provides her with a handsome acting teacher (James Scully) who turns out to be not who he seems.

Cole Escola and James Scully in a scene from Escola’s “Oh, Mary!” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

Escola’s twist on Lincoln’s actual assassination at Ford’s Theater is funny, but the truly hilarious bit is the finale, an act that fulfills Mary’s lifelong wish to be a cabaret star.  This was the only part of the show where playing to the audience worked.  Here Escola’s penchant for overacting, double takes and shtick worked to their advantage.

Escola is a direct artistic descendant of Charles Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatrical Company.  Whereas Ludlam took on such classics as Camille, A Christmas Carol and Wagner in Der Ring Gott Farblunjet, he went for a classy and classic—albeit a loony—tone.  Escola goes for the easy laugh and seems to have an uncanny gift for campy overstatement.

What Oh, Mary! does have going for it is an expansive production for an Off-Broadway show:  brilliant costumes by Holly Pierson/gowns by Astor Yang; witty sets by dots; fine lighting by Cha See; great wigs by Leah J. Loukas; and perky original music by Daniel Kluger.

Tony Macht, Bianca Leigh and Cole Escola in a scene from Escola’s “Oh, Mary!” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

Director Sam Pinkleton keeps the wild and woolly tone flowing freely allowing the extremely talented cast to do their thing with spirited zest.

Oh, Mary! (through May 12, 2024)

Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, in Manhattan

Return Engagement: Lyceum Theatre, 149 W/ $5th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit

Running time: one hour and 20 minutes without an intermission


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About Joel Benjamin (560 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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