Chicago Theatre Review
I Cannot Say His Name
The Testament of Mary – Victory Gardens Theatre
In one of the most riveting, emotionally charged performances to be experienced in this city, local actress Linda Reiter gives a tour de force that, upon the final curtain, prompts the audience to leap to its feet in appreciation. Ms. Reiter is a wonder, an absolute force of nature, filled with anger, sorrow and confusion.
This is an award-winning performance.
In Colm Toibin’s one-woman, 90-minute play, based upon his 2012 novella of the same name, Ms. Reiter plays Mary, the Mother of Jesus, although the character never actually says his name. All of her descriptions of the young man, his followers, the miracles he performed and his ultimate death are very familiar biblical events, particularly as told in the Gospel of John. Related with bitter fervor and almost tear-jerking tenderness, the actress tells her character’s powerful story of what it means to be a mother. The fact that her son was betrayed by one of his followers, tortured and crucified drives this loving woman almost to the brink of sanity.
When the audience arrives the sparsely adorned stage is in semidarkness, seemingly lit only by a few assorted candles. As the eye adjusts, the theatergoer realizes that there is a middle-age woman quietly and leisurely bathing in a kind of trough, built into the upstage area. As the play begins, she emerges, dries herself and dresses in a simple caftan and robe. The woman seems to be a captive, held alone in this room, furnished with only a bench, a table and two chairs (one of which no one will ever sit in, because it’s being kept for a son who won’t ever return). To say more would be to deprive future theatergoers of the full experience found in this mighty play. Dennis Zacek’s direction is direct and powerful. Michael Rourke’s sensitive lighting design work in tandem with Christopher Ash’s simple set. Ash’s unobtrusive projections, that create insinuated cloud formations and swirls of illumination and shadow, and Andre Pluess‘ gorgeous, subtle sound track all enhance this theatrical piece.
When this drama played Broadway, it stirred up a lot of controversy and closed after only two weeks. Newspapers published that there were “more pickets than tickets.” The play was declared blasphemous by various religious groups, even though the playwright defended his work. Toibin explained that he wasn’t mocking this icon of Christianity, but rather recreating and exploring what it meant to be the Mother of the Son of God, indeed, what it means to be anyone’s mother.
Although the woman never speaks his name, the audience understands. This Mother of all mothers opens her heart about what it means to bear and raise a son so special and important that the whole world knows his name. The loneliness she now feels and the horror she’s endured helplessly watching him die upon the cross is almost unendurable. We leave this production both saddened and enlightened.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 14-December 14 by Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.