Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of A Lesson from Aloes
Mary Mallon (Tasha Lawrence), employed often in the United States after moving here from Ireland, carried with her and transmitted to others typhoid fever. The play is situated, mostly, as Mary is confined to a cottage on North Brother Island in Bronx, New York. Overseen and managed by Riverside Hospital, her residence includes wooden chairs, well-worn kitchen appliances, and a bed. Brian Prather's set design, representing 1909/1910, immediately transports the observer to the locale.
Devoted to her Bible, Mary does not heed the insistent doctors who are certain that she was and still is in the process of infecting others with disease. Dr. William Mills (Kevin O'Rourke) and, most ardently, Dr. Ann Saltzer (Keri Safran) attempt to break through Mary's adamant thought process. Take your pick: religious belief or scientific truth. Mary vows that her way, through faith, is the only way.
Dr. Saltzer, smart and demanding, requests that Mary peer into a microscope to better understand germs. Mary will not. The physicians devise a plan, through injections and pills, to rid Mary of infection by infusing her body with a multitude of germs. Mary is certain she did not commit any crime and will not have her body surgically modified.
Sarah (Frances Evans) is an 8-year-old girl for whom Mary lovingly cares. Mary converses with the child, tries to reassure her. The presence of Sarah allows for Mary to exhibit a tender, maternal side. Typhoid Mary opens with Sarah saying "Hello." She and Mary, in July of 1909, have a conversation. It seems that Sarah's mother previously hired Mary to cook (at a time when Mary was a carrier). The short scene concludes and when the action resumes within Mary's confined room, Dr. Mills and Dr. Seltzer explain that Mary has, by now, brought illness to a multitude of others.
Actor Miles G. Jackson is double cast but most often embodies Father Michael McKuen. The clergyman tries to reach Mary but is puzzled or confounded by her. However, he and Mary are at least able to have a discussion. The only person to whom Mary is civil appears to be Sarah. Mary and Sarah talk about families, that Sarah wishes to grow up and become a cook and so forth.
The inclusion of Father McKuen and Sarah create room for Mary to demonstrate more humane parts of her character. Otherwise, she is steadfast to the point of obstinacy. Persuaded that only she has a corner on her medical situation, Mary will not listen to others. This is especially infuriating to Dr. Saltzer.
Matthew Penn, with impressive film and stage credits, directs this intimate play which snags and effectively holds attention throughout. This acting group performs with specificity. Heading that list is Tasha Lawrence as Mary. Mary is thorny from the outset as she demonstrates just what she thinks of medical assessment and advisory. Mary Mallon grew up poor but worked for wealthy families; she knows various fiscal circumstances. Dr. Ann Saltzer tries to force and coerce, but that just will not work when it comes to Mary. Stalemate.
The story surrounding Mary Mallon is accessible through research. This merit-worthy production succeeds through Mark St. Germain's ability and insight as a dialogue writer. The play, benefitting from Penn's deft staging, very much educates and sustains.
Suffice to say that this is a prescient moment for producing Typhoid Mary. The current era is one which scientific evidence, regarding other issues, is viewed as either credible or questionable. Mary made her choice, pertinent to her condition, and many human beings were victimized.
Typhoid Mary, through June 16th, 2018, on Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage, 30 Union St, Pittsfield MA. For tickets, call 413-236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.