Review: ‘Mary Page Marlowe’ Lives an Ordinary, Extraordinary Life


Her own life soon began to spin out of control, throwing her a tragedy at 44 and a disaster of her own making at 50 (when she is played by Kellie Overbey). Finally, in late middle age, when Ms. Brown takes over, she finds some serenity.

The intermittent and sideways approach asks a lot of the actors. Ms. Overbey, in the harrowing scene that precipitates the end of her second marriage, has to go from zero to breakdown in about three minutes. Ms. Brown’s 63-year-old Mary Page, watching “House, M.D.” with her third husband, is handed a letter that suddenly makes her cry. The letter is not read aloud.

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All six Mary Pages are excellent, handing off, as if in a relay race, the baton of the character’s discontinuous personality. If Ms. Brown seems to be giving an especially fine-grained performance, that’s in part because the older Mary Page is more stable than the earlier ones. The three Mary Pages from 27 through 50 — the tightly coiled Ms. Maslany, the frantic Ms. Pourfar and the explosive Ms. Overbey — trace emotional arcs that are more jagged. The two younger Mary Pages set the baseline beautifully.

Despite the deliberate disjointedness of the script, the production, another confidently expressive staging by Lila Neugebauer, makes it coolly legible. The supporting ensemble — husbands, friends, children, a nurse — offer deeply etched cameos. Among other helpful touches, the costumes by Kaye Voyce and especially the wigs by Anne Ford-Coates and Tom Watson help you keep track of the timeline.

Ms. Neugebauer, whose unshowy precision helped make the recent revival of Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo” so much warmer than it seemed in its original production, works in the other direction here, keeping Mr. Letts’s baroque machine from overheating. Perhaps she succeeds too much. On a set by Laura Jellinek that aptly suggests the cross-section of a roller coaster, the years slide by almost like tableaus in a pageant. Only briefly between scenes — and once, in a haunting moment near the end — does Ms. Neugebauer let the Mary Pages acknowledge one another, even if they don’t (and never could) connect.

If this is a drawback, it is also Mr. Letts’s point. The 36-year-old Mary Page, during an appointment with her shrink (Marcia DeBonis, perfect), describes her personality as a series of “compartments” and considers ways to integrate her “different lives.” We’ve seen those different lives in action and understand how her refusal to acknowledge them creates the moral fog she prefers to live in. No wonder she quickly disowns her therapeutic insights as bull.

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