It takes six talented actresses to play the one role of Mary Page Marlowe at various stages of her life in Tracy Letts’s perceptive composite portrait presented by Second Stage. The time frames are jumbled rather than in a steady arc, but what the author cobbles together is a look at how a life becomes very different than the one hoped for, and a revelation that one may not be able to be in control.
The play begins with a scene in Ohio in which Mary Page at the age of 40, then played by Susan Pourfar, who also later plays her at 44, is trying to explain to her angry 15-year old daughter the dynamics of a marital split in which Mary Page is to move from Ohio to a job in Kentucky and how it will affect the lives of her daughter and son.
Others who portray Mary Page include Blair Brown who plays her at 59, 63 and 69; Emma Geer at 19; Mia Sinclair Jenness at 12; Tatiana Maslany at 27 and 36 and Kellie Overbey at 50.
In a college scene Mary Page (Geer) is optimistically looking for a full and happy life, explaining to her girlfriends that she has rejected a marriage proposal from a handsome guy on campus because she doesn’t want to be a wife a that stage. She muses about wanting to do other things, like going to Paris, and searching for more than just marriage. The rest of the play demonstrates how all turned sour until a happier period with her third husband late in life.
We get to see her when married and playing loose with sex with an also married boss for whom she works. She enjoys the sex but wants to avoid any commitment. We see her in a revealing session with a psychiatrist in which Mary Page is filled with self-rage. We later find her about to go to prison for drunk driving. Later, we see her crying with happiness after a letter arrives apparently freeing her from the limiting conditions of her release—a scene that also reveals a loving relationship with her third, very understanding and devoted husband. We also see her as a hospital patient resigned to her impending death from a fatal illness and telling a nurse that she is ready.
While it is very interesting to have Mary Page played by six actresses, they are so very different in looks that the effect is sometimes jarring. It is also difficult to see the downfall from the college student’s rosy vision and wonder why she couldn’t have more control of her life. But on the other hand Letts is stressing that life can take unexpected sharp turns against which one is helpless.
Skillful director Lila Neugebauer makes it relatively easy to follow the mixture of timelines, which makes the play provocative and intriguing. The two-level set designed by Laura Jellinek helps the flow of action with required furniture being moved in and out with simplicity.
One leaves with a nuanced impression of a turbulent life with all its ramifications for Mary Page and for some of those with whom she has interacted. An excellent supporting cast helps flesh out the total picture. At the Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, 305 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed August 1, 2018.