In “Mary Page Marlowe,” six female actors come together with deft dramatic force to portray one, more-or-less mild-mannered woman. Her modest, flawed life is measured out in a series of defining events, which may lack for epic heft, but still manage to carry impressive weight.
If it sounds more like a remake of “Sybil” than a probing work of theater, consider that "Mary Page Marlowe" is the creation of playwright Tracy Letts. His Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County,” which premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007, made hay on Broadway the following year (and also made its way to the big screen in a 2013 film starring the likes of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts).
Clocking in at an economic, absorbing 90 minutes, this slimmer, yet similarly well-honed work also emerged from Steppenwolf Theatre, this time in 2016. The play then enjoyed a well-received Off-Broadway run.
The play now comes to Charleston in a new production directed by Keely Enright for Village Repertory Company. The resident company of Woolfe Street Playhouse, the company regularly mounts substantial contemporary work, and does so with terrific polish. Presenting heady plays, styling smart sets and selling drinks from an in-house bar, the sum total of the experience makes for an altogether enjoyable way to spend an evening.
Considering the work's efficiency of craft, let it be noted that the events in "Mary Page Marlowe" are by no means trotted out in any tidy, linear fashion. Instead, they skitter around, with Mary Page's senior moments jostling next to her infancy, her mid-life mistakes juxtaposed with her tween years.
Each of the six actors playing Mary Page portrays her during different chunks of her life, hanging seemingly haphazardly together outside of chronology. And we piece it together in the same manner that we do with most folks we meet. We get to know them by the gradual rolling out of salient bits of their experiences — like the patchwork quilt that Mary Page herself holds dear.
After all, Mary Page’s increasingly unfazed, shoulder-shrugging mental state pinballs around her days in a similarly disjointed fashion. At times, Mary Page can be one hot mess, in spite of her sometimes matter-of-fact manner, navigating divorces, disgraces, indiscretions and deaths in no particular order.
As such, the Mary Page sextet of actors, as well as the dozen other performers with whom they interact, are all tasked with quickly telegraphing the time and circumstances surrounding their scenes. We can thereby glean and engage with her emotional state, while also getting our bearings on the story line.
The Mary Page six in this production did so to impressive effect, somehow capturing that curious collective aspect of her character as she ricochets through the years and events.
There's the persistently pleasant 40-year-old Mary Page (Alea McKinley), a career CPA who is divorcing her husband to move to Dayton, Ohio, with reluctant kids in tow. Then there's the sparkly college Mary Page (Mckenzie Wilson), perched on a dorm room bed and primed for a bright future.
From there, we veer one way or the other. We encounter her in later life (Samille Basler), with far more baggage but residual geniality; in the full throes of bad mistakes (Liz Butler Duren); in the prime of her life in the 1970s and '80s wrestling with her own wayward desires (Charley Smith); and as an amiable 12-year-old child of the 1950s engaging in an less-than-happy home (Ambria Rogers).
As life happens to Mary Page Marlowe, she seems to increasingly disengage, as if she were someone rubber-necking at her own accident. That doesn't, however, diminish our engagement with her. We have gotten to know this one woman, whose beginning, middle and end would surely otherwise would be unsung and unspun. I felt for all six of her.
All this plays out on Woolfe Street Playhouse's smaller, black-box stage, which has been fashioned into a monochromatic gray set by Dave Reinwald and Mark Chestnut. The stage is edged with dates spanning the years between 1946 and 2019, offering further bearing on the terrain to be covered. There, one scene effectively shifts to the next, as Mary’s life unfolds, rewinds, fast forwards and doubles back again.
Without spoiling the ending, I will say it’s a “Wait, what?” sort of fizzle, as if to affirm there is providence in the fall of a Mary Page. Fans of “The Sopranos” might recall that feeling when the lights go dark on Tony Soprano. An equally unceremonious full stop aborts the action in “Mary Page Marlowe.” While you scratch your head, the house lights come on for the curtain call, and the cast triumphantly marches in, Mary Pages and all.