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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Vineyard Theatre, New York

By Sandy MacDonald

  (L to R) Keir Dullea and Paige Howard/Photo: Carol Rosegg

Our modern sensibilities shudder to contemplate the horrific possibilities were an eleven-year-old girl to go missing for twenty days - even in so seemingly harmless and romanticized a setting as a wild, uninhabited Scottish island. Fortunately for us and the girl both, it's J.M. Barrie, that master of psychosexual sublimation, who did the imagining back in 1920, in his mild ghost tale Mary Rose. The worst torment we're given to picture young Mary Rose (luminous Paige Howard) undergoing is the Pied Piper-like call of otherworldly music (provided here by Obadiah Eaves). Yielding to its lure, she enters some timeless dimension, ultimately to rematerialize unscathed - at least the first time.

It falls to her parents (played by stolid Betsy Aidem and more mercurial Michael Countryman) to cope with the real-world consequences. There'll be no delving for repressed memories; in fact, Mary Rose's parents determine to shield her from any knowledge of her unusual fugue state, resolving only that, should she become affianced, her future husband deserves to know.

Simon (Darren Goldstein), a stalwart young officer, is of course undeterred, and the young couple embarks gaily on marriage and parenthood. Wouldn't you know, though, that Mary Rose's idea of the ideal vacation spot is that very Outer Hebrides island where the membrane between this and that other world which summoned her earlier appears so especially porous.

Peel away the eerie overlay, and Barrie's script cleaves more to a cozy domestic comedy, with  Mary Roses's father,Mr. Morland and the local parson (Rom Rils Farrell) competing goodnaturedly over their hobby of collecting prints and arguing about who has a "flair" for spotting overlooked Constables ... The young "gillie"(manservant), whom Simon and Mary Rose hire to helm their island expedition, affords an amusing scene in which the Scotsman( Ian Brennan, exhibiting an impeccable burr)  subtly twits the Brits' assumptive superiority.

It's the bookend portions of the play that establish and sustain the ghostly mood. Mrs. Otery (terse Susan Blommaert) belongs to that grand tradition of housekeepers sitting on a secret. It's the wake of World War I: several decades have passed since Mary Rose's last - and presumably final - disappearance. Mrs. Otery is showing the abandoned house to a young soldier, whose identity we can quickly surmise. (On this particular evening, Noah Bean had to stand in for Richard Short: so moving was his portrayal, the script in his hand proved no distraction.) Surely some kind of showdown - a long-delayed resolution - is in order. But just as clearly, Barrie's intent is to prompt pangs of mourning, for a world lost forever, rather than to elicit easy chills.

The staging is fairly straightforward - pared-down and smooth (to segue to Scotland, set designer James Schuette simply rolls away a drawing room wall to reveal a grassy coastline). Director Tina Landau's respectful revival (the work had not appeared in New York for a half-century) takes one major liberty, in according the stage directions, and thus the author's own voice, an outlet in the form of a narrator. Who wouldn't choose Keir Dullea m, with his own haunted quality, as a cicerone to the afterlife? He's ever-present, awaiting the action on a dimly lit stage, and even looking on from the side when his services aren't needed. In the face of all this loss - surely a universal mood at the time Barrie created this unsettling tale - it's a comfort to have a steady, caring witness.


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