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October 2, 2017
Review: Mary Jane
L-R: Carrie Coon and Susan Pourfar. Photo: Joan Marcus

I shouldn’t be surprised that an offering at New York Theatre Workshop would be an exceptional piece of theater, but Amy Herzog’s Mary Jane directed by Anne Kauffman, transcends even the highest of my expectations.

Before I begin, I should admit that I jumped at the chance to review Mary Jane, when I heard Carrie Coon would embody the eponymous role. As a disciple of The Leftovers, I couldn’t wait to see the talented actress onstage and in Mary Jane she is nothing short of staggering as a single mother navigating the realities of caring for her chronically ill child. Part of what is so impressive about Coon’s performance is her ability to embody the performance of motherhood in a time of crisis. And by performance, I don’t mean posting updates on Facebook or other outwardly public displays of ‘motherness,’ but by the ways a mother displays she has it together and affects normalcy when the situation is anything but. Mary Jane wants people to know that she is okay, that she is grounded, that she is decidedly “fine,” and that she can see an outcome that isn’t dismal for her child’s and her own situation. There is so much pain and uncertainty being hidden away, covered by cheerfulness and optimism. Mary Jane tries to maintain herself, but it all eventually becomes too overwhelming, and the facade splinters, revealing her distress. This inner struggle is palpable and expertly conveyed by Coon. The source of this pain, her child, Alex, is all but hidden from view, either tucked away in the offstage bedroom or enveloped in a shroud of blankets, elevated on a hospital bed, but is nevertheless a constant presence, a gravitational pull of heartache and devotion that cannot be ignored.

At various points, Mary Jane asks if there is a meaning to the suffering of herself and her child, a reason why all of this is happening. Is this punishment? Would religion make this easier? Herzog, however, doesn’t promote the situation as some retribution for past deeds or some sadistic spiritual test. If anything, the connections between the characters, their conversations and offerings to each other are all the more meaningful because resolution is not what is sought after. There is no answer or source of meaning, only the sanctity of intimate connection. What happens or what will happen is arbitrary.  Mary Jane interacts with actresses who play dual roles throughout the performance, Liza Colón-Zayas (Sherry/Dr. Toros), Danaya Esperanza (Amelia/Kat), Susan Pourfar (Brianne/Chaya), and Brenda Wehle (Ruthie/Tenkei). They embody different sides of the same coin in the people they play: spiritual guidance, caretaking, comfort, and solidarity. All of their performances are worthy of note.

Mary Jane is an exploration of an impossible situation: being the single mother to a sick child, loving someone deeply who suffers constantly, giving life but not being able to fix it. It should not be missed.

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Interview: Susan Pourfar on Being Part of Amy Herzog’s ‘Mary Jane’ at NYTW

By Emily Gawlak

Perhaps one mark of a great play is that it transforms not only the audience, but its actors as well. Only a few months after its world premiere at Yale Rep, Mary Jane, a collaboration between playwright Amy Herzog and director Anne Kauffman, settles in at New York Theatre Workshop to reprise the story of a single mother caring for a chronically ill, special needs child. Carrie Coon takes over the titular role, conveying Mary Jane’s unflagging spirit — one that astounds, confounds, and inspires those around her, and, as she searches for meaning in her son’s suffering, helps her transcend boundaries of class, culture, and religion. Like the rest of the play’s all-female cast, aside from Coon, Susan Pourfar tackles two different roles — Brianne, a new mom Mary Jane coaches on the challenges and bureaucratic loopholes of raising a child with special needs, and Chaya, an Orthodox Jew with a special needs child of her own whom Mary Jane meets in the hospital. The actress, who has made a name for herself in theater (Tribes, Women or Nothing), film (Manchester By the Sea, Irrational Man), and television (Scandal, House of Cards), reflected on the powerful, unexpected ways embodying these …Read more

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Written by: Kathryn Kelly
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