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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Maria/Stuart

Marie/Stuart
Naomi Jacobson, Amy McWilliams and Eli James
Jason Grote's clever and involving family drama Maria/Stuart, receiving its world premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC, uses erudition and impressive language—not to mention a surprising amount of unexpected humor—to make a simple point: family secrets are toxic and will keep causing trouble if they're not acknowledged and brought into the open. Director Pam MacKinnon demonstrates the versatility necessary for a play that encompasses both the everyday and the eternal.

Grote begins with a middle-class Jewish family living in the New York and Philadelphia suburbs, but he soon moves past the realistic into the surreal with the appearance of a shapeshifter who takes on the physical form of the other characters. The creature has a few basic characteristics: an insatiable thirst for soft drinks ("anything but diet") and a tendency to declaim in German. Another level in Grote's complex conceit is how he draws parallels between his domestic drama and Friedrich Schiller's Maria Stuart, about the tragic battle between Queen Elizabeth I of England and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.

The play begins with Stuart (Eli James), a graphic artist with intellectual pretensions. He is preparing to launch a superhero comic book whose characters take their names from the plays of Anton Chekhov, including the Three Sisters, the Seagull, and the Cherry Orchard ("with all the powers of a cherry orchard!").

Stuart is the only man Grote depicts in a family of strong women; his exhausted mother Marnie (Amy McWilliams) and his sexy aunt Lizzie (Emily Townley) have husbands, but they are absent throughout the play. The rest of the family includes Marnie and Lizzie's sister Sylvia (Naomi Jacobson), who has prosthetic hands and a tendency toward hallucinations; Lizzie's underachieving daughter Hannah (Meghan Grady); and the matriarch, Ruthie (Sarah Marshall), who's doing her best to keep up appearances as things collapse around her. While the entire cast does well, Jacobson has the flashiest role, and she grabs attention whenever she appears.

The combination of the commonplace and the fantastic comes through in James Kronzer's set design: Lizzie's kitchen on one side, Marnie's on the other, and rectangular kitchen cupboards (resembling coffins) rising in an arch to the ceiling. Debra Kim Sivigny's witty costumes encapsulate the characters, from Stuart's scruffiness to the way that Lizzie shows her cleavage even in a black mourning dress. Colin K. Bills' lighting design and Matthew M. Nielson's sound design and original music are unobtrusive in the naturalistic scenes, striking and evocative in the moments of fantasy.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Maria/Stuart
August 18th – September 14th
By Jason Grote
Stuart: Eli James
Hannah: Meghan Grady
Lizzie: Emily Townley
Ruthie: Sarah Marshall
Marnie: Amy McWilliams
Aunt Sylvia: Naomi Jacobson
There is also a Shapeshifter who pops up in the form of the other characters—it is played by the ensemble, variously.
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


Photos: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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