1) You mean, I can walk on stage?
Why, yes. Yes, you can. Don’t you dare arrive any less than 15 minutes early to this production because you’ll miss out on the chance to explore the stage and get a bit intimate with an iconically-clad Fiona Shaw. You also get to touch and see tons of props, which range from Middle Eastern food products to a some large nails that look pretty appropriate for hammering a body to a cross, and get friendly with a live vulture, which elicited a bit of a swear from me when I realized it wasn’t a stuffed replica. This intimacy with the construction of the piece is definitely useful when play time comes around. In essence, we have intruded upon Mary’s home, much like Christ’s disciples, as Mary reveals in the first lines of the play.
2) I don’t see how this is blasphem– oh wait, never mind.
ToM‘s first preview and official opening were met with protests from Catholic groups. Now, I’m a bit of a Catholic myself (depends on my mood) and I’ve found that cries of blasphemy are usually unsubstantiated. Take people who find Jesus Christ Superstar blasphemic. I mean, that stuff is often the only thing getting me through those long Palm Sunday/Good Friday Passion readings.
ToM doesn’t sound blasphemic in theory. Isn’t privileging Mary’s status in the Gospels what being Catholic’s all about? ish?
And then… there’s the part where she relates how Jesus says he is the son of God and she goes ABSOLUTELY CRAZY, crying and screaming out of frustration with her condition and his departure from her reality. So yea, there’s that.
Sorry, I’ve been spending too much time around teenagers. I meant to write, ‘naked.’ Yup, Fiona Shaw’s nekkid. And it’s great. That’s some warranted vulnerability right there.
4) Weird staging is weird, but only sometimes cool
Christ’s crucifixion has left Mary vulnerable, paranoid, and desperate. Her moods change quite suddenly. And she is moving around almost all the time. Washing this. Cleaning that. Moving chairs and ladders and jugs for no apparent reason. In honesty, sometimes it works. Mostly, it doesn’t. Plus, it’s a bit distracting from an already difficult-to-grasp narrative that is powerful, yet often abstract. Then you’ve got all those allusion-y moments, like where Mary carries a ladder and a bundle of barbed wire like a cross. And lies across the table quite like a crucified Jesus. You know, just in case you needed to be bluntly hit over the head with images of Mary’s passion paralleling with Christ’s.
5) Rewriting History From A Gendered Perspective
While Christ’s teaching are largely peaceful, his message was quite a revolutionary one. Transcending politics is also one way of subverting them. And, as Mary tells it, Christ’s mission meddles far more in social and political subversion than our two thousand year old accounts, emphasize. In ToM, Christ and his followers are constantly under threat of surveillance, even assassination.
Mary also emphasizes the gendered divide that Christ’s teachings impose on their relationship. Surrounding himself with male followers, who are characterized as social radicals and political schemers, Jesus renounces his mother and excludes her from his work, much to her dismay. The effects of his preaching have also gravely impacted their region, flooding it with paranoia and surveillance, and violence from both government and disciples. Mary tells of the many disciples who force their way into their home, eager to record her testimony (of course, with edits) and frantically trying to manipulate every moment of Christ’s life.
Mary laments the loss of her son at many points throughout the play. And it’s not just his death that has separated her from him. No, their separation occurred long before his death. Where is the little boy who learned to walk in his mother’s arms? –the son who cared not for life philosophies, nor religious fanatics, nor socio-political dialogues? This patriarchal influence over the world has caused the chaos and brutality that survives Christ’s crucifixion. And, as contemporary audiences can testify, its influence remains unto this day in religious wars and extremist faiths.
What might have happened had Mary’s understanding of Christ prevailed over that of his followers? Might we have had a more human Christ? A faith that focuses on relationships, on worldly emotions, on the real care and love and kindness between a woman and her son, rather than any abstract theologies, ideological practices, heaven and hell, and a distanced God who resembles more of a tyrant than any mother we know?
6) In the Name of ________
You’re not gonna hear that name. She won’t say it. Is it because saying it will give her grief? Or because he’s irrelevant?