Like cards drawn from a Tarot deck, waiting to be flipped over and have their meanings analyzed, the various facets of the life of one woman — the Mary Page Marlowe of this play’s title — are unfolded for the audience to see. And like a Tarot reading or daily horoscope, the pieces aren’t always laid out clearly. There are things left unsaid or open for interpretation, leaving you to fill in the spaces between.
The Tracy Letts-penned drama, now playing Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theater, follows the titular character through a series of pivotal moments in her life — a This Is Us-ian overlapping of time periods and ages, but without the constant call for tissues the NBC series warns (or brags?) you’ll need each week. The first Mary Page Marlowe we meet is in her 40s, explaining to her two children that she and her husband are divorcing and she’s moving from Ohio to Kentucky, and that they’ll join her there when the school year is over. With a flip of set pieces and actresses, Mary Page is then a 19-year-old getting that Tarot reading from a girlfriend, confident she wants more from life than settling down with her college beau, to “get out of Ohio” and “see what else is out there.” Thanks to that first scene, we know she does, but it’s no longer with that youthful optimism.
Six actresses in total play Mary Page, from the age of 12 up into her 60s. That six includes Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany in her New York stage debut, who has moved from portraying nearly a dozen characters on the beloved BBC America drama Orphan Black to sharing one role with five other women — plus a baby doll, standing in for her as an infant and helpless witness to her parents’ crumbling marriage. Playing Mary Page at 27 and 36, Maslany’s portions of Mary Page’s life aren’t as fraught as some of the others, but she bristles through an uncomfortable therapy session and carries on an affair with a practiced steeliness that the character uses to hide the things she won’t talk about, or can’t bear to.
Letts, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner for August: Osage County, leaves breadcrumbs throughout the script that foreshadow things the future Mary Pages will have to deal with, or fill in blanks on events that happened earlier. When an older Mary Page, played in the later decades of her life by Orange is the New Black’s Blair Brown, tells a nurse she only has one child, the question of why she doesn’t mention her son is left unanswered, until it isn’t. Director Lila Neuberger (who has quickly become a Name You Should Know with her work on The Wolves, The Antipodes, After the Blast, and Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo) deftly threads these stories and women (woman?) together. Scenic design from Laura Jellinek allows the flashes forward and backward to run seamlessly against a paneled, neutral background, with some clever touches — like a liquor cabinet that gets frequent use from Mary Page’s parents, overlapping into her own eventual home and struggle with drinking.
I almost wish the Mary Pages could speak to one another through space and time, as a trio of incarnations did in last season’s revival of Three Tall Women. Maybe they could have helped each other cope, or issued warnings, that would have made the story a bit less formulaic. Nevertheless it’s interesting watching Mary Page Marlowe unfold all the parts of herself that made her who she is — laying all her cards out on the proverbial table. B