A play about the Virgin Mary heads to Broadway

The New York TimesJanuary 10, 2013 

Theater Fiona Shaw

Acclaimed actress Fiona Shaw will return to Broadway this spring for the first time since “Medea” in 2002 with “The Testament of Mary.”

JOEL RYAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Acclaimed actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner will return to Broadway this spring for the first time since their “Medea” in 2002 with “The Testament of Mary,” another play about an emotionally vivid and vulnerable woman.

Shaw will play the Virgin Mary, struggling to come to grips with the life of her son 20 years after the Crucifixion; the play is scheduled to begin preview performances on March 26 at the Walter Kerr Theater and open on April 22.

“The Testament of Mary” began as a monologue written by the Irish novelist Colm Toibin (“The Master,” “Mothers and Sons”) and performed by Tony Award winner Marie Mullen in the Dublin Theater Festival in 2011.

Toibin turned the piece into a novella, which was published to critical praise last fall. In a telephone interview on Monday, Shaw and Warner said that Toibin was now working on the latest version for the Broadway production, which they expected to run 90 minutes.

The women said they had been hunting for years for another Broadway project when the Tony-winning producer Scott Rudin, who worked with them on “Medea,” pitched “Testament” and proposed going right to New York rather than their usual route of international theater festivals.

“I can’t believe we’re doing it straight on Broadway, because it’s new for us, and possibly a little bit mad, and possibly right,” Warner said. “It has all sorts of things about it that will make it most provocative.”

Shaw also acknowledged “potentially sacrilegious” elements of the play, in which Mary agonizes over the choices of her son and argues with his disciples over hagiography being prepared for the Gospels.

Still, Shaw noted that “Testament” caused relatively little fuss among Roman Catholics in Dublin.

“It’s not some sort of fundamentalist tract challenging the basis of Judeo-Christian religion,” Shaw said. “Colm, as a Catholic and Irishman, knows the stories of Mary in his bones. He has played with them, but he also loves Mary – he’s not here to slam her up against a wall.”

By their count, “Testament of Mary” is at least the 13th outing together for Shaw and Warner, who first teamed in 1988 on a production of “Electra.”

In New York their work includes “The Waste Land” (1996); “Medea” – for which they were nominated for best-actress and best-director Tonys; and “Happy Days” (2008). Rudin is shepherding “Testament” with the producer Stuart Thompson.

Given the reputations involved – Shaw is an Olivier Award-winning actress who is a favorite of theater critics – “Testament” is likely to be a force in several Tony races; other new plays with strong female protagonists include “The Other Place” (starring Laurie Metcalf) and “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers” (Bette Midler).

Shaw, asked if Tony voters would dare to deny Mary, laughed at length. Then she said, “I think Tony voters should pray on it.”

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