If you you know Fiona Shaw only from her film work, then you don’t know Fiona Shaw. Her overpoweringly impressive solo performance in The Testament of Mary is – I’ll just say it – searingly brilliant. I’ve quipped to people who enthuse about “searing” performances that I’d rather theatre not burn me. However, if it’s done as expertly as Shaw does it, I truly have no complaints.
The Testament of Mary takes place many years after the Crucifixion. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is in the city of Ephesus where two men, presumably St. Paul and St. Peter, both guard and protect her. Resisting the too-unearthly shape they are giving to her son’s story, Mary tells her own version.
Playwright Colm Tóibín has crafted a very human Mary who is more disturbed than moved by her son’s faith healing, and is even more disturbed by the thought of what’s going to happen to him when the Roman occupiers get wind of his revolutionary spiritual teachings. This Mary is emphatically a concerned mother, and as such takes a very dim view of her son’s oversized claims and ambitions.
It’s a very provocative take, that might even be considered blasphemous in some more conservative corners. Shaw leans into the humanity of this woman, throwing chairs and ladders about to underline her frustrated fury and rage.
The most interesting description I ever heard of postmodernism was from writer Umberto Eco, something to effect that a good faith postmodernist feels that they have history under their belt – rather than weighing down on their backs, as it did for modernists like Samuel Beckett. Well, taking it a degree further, I’d say Mary director Deborah Warner has theatrical postmodernism under her belt rather than weighing on her back – her staging owes much to postmodernists like Robert Wilson or Heiner Müller, but she and Shaw wear it much more lightly than their predecessors, and use it in a way that is much more expressive.
I might not recommend this to the more hidebound variety of Christian, but anybody outside of that group will find a great deal to appreciate in this daring and exquisitely executed portrait of a woman dealing with more than any person should have to face.
For tickets, click here.