Making no assumptions: Colm Tóibín’s Testament of Mary closes on Broadway despite Tony nominations
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Main image: Fiona Shaw in the Testament of Mary

Below: Fiona Shaw with director Deborah Warner. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe


Making no assumptions: Colm Tóibín’s Testament of Mary closes on Broadway despite Tony nominations

The fortunes of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary on Broadway might best be described as a mixed blessing. Barely an hour after it received Tony Award nominations for Best Play (Tóibín), Best Lighting (Jennifer Tipton) and Best Sound Design (Mel Mercier, who was also nominated for a Drama Desk Award), its producer Scott Rudin announced that the show would close after only 16 performances. (It had 27 previews). The play’s premiere production opened in 2011 at the Dublin Theatre Festival in a co-production between Landmark Productions and the Festival starring Marie Mullen and directed by Garry Hynes (in a version called Testament). The Broadway version secured Fiona Shaw to play the role of Mary, an anguished, sceptical mother unable to inscribe her side of the story into the official pages of history, and Deborah Warner as her director, who more forcibly inscribed her concept on the production through the introduction of Shaw as the beatific virgin in a Perspex case and with the presence of a live vulture. Swooping outside the Walter Kerr Theatre was a regular group of noisesome Christian protesters who not only objected to what they considered a blasphemous play, but, in the case of one group at least, the sexuality of its makers. Jesus wept.

tom-company-fiona-deborah.jpgAs Fintan O’Toole recently argued in The Irish Times, by Broadway’s logic The Testament of Mary “got the “wrong” nominations”. If Fiona Shaw had received a nod from the Tony, for instance, the show might have been saved; but not enough out-of-towners will book a ticket on the basis of superlative designs. While the nominations may not have helped the show’s commercial prospects, its closing will not help the prospects of its nominees. A panel of 700 judges vote in the categories and the production’s shortened run (it was scheduled to perform until Jun 16) will have denied many judges the chance to deliberate.

Those that have had the chance have been mixed in their responses, with Ben Brantley, of the New York Times, praising the writing and performance but expressing dismay about the fussy embellishments of Warner’s production: “It is as if Ms. Warner didn’t trust sufficiently in the power of her star and script to captivate a big Broadway audience.” If that really was her reasoning, she may have been proven correct. For many, though, this will have been one of the better plays to reach Broadway that was never seen.


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