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April 30, 2024
There's Nothing As Powerful As A Mother's Love
Mary Jane
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Few film actors can easily transition from film to the stage with live audiences and no do-overs. Yet Rachel McAdams makes a splendid Broadway debut in the revival of Amy Herzog’s play “Mary Jane.” The quiet intimate play is about Mary Jane, the single mother of a severely disabled youngster. Alexander is two and a half and the focus of the play, yet we never see him. We only hear the sounds of machines and talk of seizures, temperatures and medicine.

Mary Jane puts her entire life on hold to care for him. Her plans to become a teacher must wait. Her husband has a panic attack at the hospital after the baby’s birth and then weeks later, leaves them. So Mary Jane soldiers on by herself.

Directed by Anne Kaufmann, the beauty of the play is that, despite all her obstacles, Mary Jane isn’t really alone. The play focuses on the bond between women. Although she has no real family, a ‘family’ of women arises around her. She has the staunch support of some of Alex’s medical team, namely one of his nurses played by April Mathis and the neighbors like the super Ruthie (Brenda Wehle.)

Mary Jane works from home and sometimes neglects her job to care for her son. There are women around her to help, support and advise her. Everyone around her is female. ( Since all the female actors have multiple roles, there appear to be even more women in her circle

But the bottom line is that the burden is Mary Jane’s alone. Others get to leave. The play is a peon to motherhood - the love and sacrifice.

McAdams plays her part with grace, charm and even a bit of humor. She is down to earth and real. She is always smiling and never complaining.

Mary Jane is willing to help others and is always asking others how they are doing. She worries that the rain will harm the nurse’s garden. In one scene, she advises a young mother whose newborn was born with serious medical issues. Mary Jane instructs her on what she needs for her child and how to deal with the system, reminding the audience of what she has gone through to get Alex help.

When Alex stops breathing and has to be hospitalized, the setting of the one-bedroom Queens apartment where Mary Jane lives is hoisted up to reveal the hospital room and waiting room. (Scenic design by Lael Jellinek.) Later Mary Jane trades stories with an Orthodox woman whose child shares a room with Alex. Despite her own problems, the other woman (Susan Pourfar) pities her as a single mother.

Yet Mary Jane never asks for sympathy or pity. When Ruthie reminds her to take care of herself, Mary Jane insists that she’s doing okay. However, she is constantly tired and suffers from migraines.

Mary Jane is solicitous and helpful and kind to everyone, not at all bitter. Playwright Amy Herzog introduces religion twice, the first time with the Orthodox woman. When Mary Jane asks her if her faith helps, she answers that it is the community that helps. Later a novice Buddhist nun comes to comfort her in the hospital and Mary Jane asks questions about her faith.

Mary Jane is curious, interested and warm and McAdams has us believing that she is this warm and caring mother. Despite his handicaps, Alex is lucky to have her and we are lucky to visit "Mary Jane."

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W. 47th St.
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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