Goodman Theatre’s ‘Mary’ will aggravate you to no end — but is that a bad thing?



A tense and twisted family Christmas in Thomas Bradshaw’s “Mary,” playing at the Goodman

At the end of Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary, you’re not quite sure if you should clap or slip quietly out the doors. It seems inappropriate — and perhaps supportive of a belief that goes against everything you hold near and dear — to force applause following a chilling final speech. Also: there’s no curtain call. So an uncertain smattering of hand clapping will suffice.

But that’s not to say Bradshaw’s work isn’t completely fascinating and worthy of a hearty hand.

Ok, look. Those that have seen this play have walked away with really mixed feelings. It’s not the kind of play that neatly fits. It confronts hot-button issues of racism and homophobia in a way that spurs nervous laughter and seat shifting. It’s a little campy and a little crude and a lot uncomfortable. Also bitterly funny. And in the end, that final speech feels like a face slap.

Such sudden shifts in tone could be the sign of lazy playwrighting. But I feel Bradshaw knows exactly what he’s doing. He keeps us off balance, forcing us to change our fully-formed opinions about a character or situation on a dime. Life isn’t neat, and people change — and not necessarily for the better.

(If you’ve noticed, I’m being very vague about the plot points because I think it helps to go into it completely cold, like I did tonight.)

However, the thing that fascinated me most about this frustrating play is that all the characters share a common trait: As unpopular as their beliefs are, they’re all formed out of love. As hateful as it may be to hear someone say the N word or remark that homosexuals should be shot, there is zero hate in this play. Nope: believe it or not, love is the engine that drives all here. Severely misdirected love, but love nonetheless.

Which leads to the question: is love just as powerfully dangerous as hate?

You bet it is.

Don’t listen to what others are saying: see this 84 minute play and form your own opinions. I promise you won’t be bored.


CTA Index Rating: 8 out of 10 (A provocative play that is definitely NOT a people pleaser.)


“Mary” plays through March 6 in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre. More info here >

11 thoughts on “Goodman Theatre’s ‘Mary’ will aggravate you to no end — but is that a bad thing?

  1. I agree with your review. It clearly left its mark on me. Woke up this morning and it was the first thing I thought about.

  2. Thanks for giving the play a legitimate chance. Your review was much more thoughtful and insightful than She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

  3. There was a curtain call at the preview I saw last Sat night. Interesting that it has been eliminated!

    Along with your valid question about whether love can be as harmful as hate, the play also asks whether education does more good than harm.

    1. Nope – there was no curtain call last night (the 16th). I think it was a good decision.

      And the idea about education, as you mention, was apparent to me, but I’m not sure what to say about it. I’m still mulling it over …

  4. I felt at the curtain call that I was reassuring the actors that I still liked them ;).

    I saw the education issue as linked to what Mary says at one point about the “harms” that were generated by the emancipation proclamation: that nothing is unequivocally good, not even freedom and literacy.

    I have to say I am sympathetic to Bradshaw’s fatigue (mentioned in an interview) with the idea that things always get better, that there is always enlightenment and growth to be gleaned from suffering.

  5. I wholeheartedly disagree. I would not recommend anyone see this play. I believe the writing, directing, and acting is sloppy and heavy handed. I felt embarrassed for the actors and at many points it was just painful to watch. If he was going for sudden shifts in tone, it was done because of “lazy playwriting”. I’m one to look for the good in everything, and there is not one redeeming quality I can find in this production. I honestly don’t know how it made it past the selection committee. I think it needs a lot more work-shopping and it could become a great play. But until that happens I would suggest not seeing this production…it’s 84 minutes of your life you’ll want back.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. I’m curious — you say there’s “not one redeeming quality” in this play, but then say with some workshopping it could be a “great play”? That’s a pretty big leap to make. What’s salvageable?

  6. […] The last time the notions of sexual orientation and race were addressed together on Goodman’s Owen stage was in a controversial play by Thomas Bradshaw called Mary back in early 2011. The angle Bradshaw took to make his point — about how difficult it is to be a gay man in the African American community — was so bent, people left the theatre disoriented, angry and more than a touch offended. (I, for one, loved the play). […]

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