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Getting Medieval: “Mary Gets Hers” reviewed

The levels of the adjective Cuteness are Cute, the comparative Cutesie, and the superlative Cutesie-poo. Emma Horwitz’s Mary Gets Hers fits into the superlative slot. It’s Cutesie-poo at its most florid — and fully realized accordingly, as directed by Josiah Davis.

The Playwrights Realm press release announcing the intermissionless 90-minute piece explains, “Inspired by Hrosvitha of Gandersheim’s tenth-century play Abraham, or the Rise and Repentance of Mary, Horwitz’s off-kilter medieval tragicomedy follows its protagonist through an era of plague and zealotry, the prisons of society’s gendered expectations, and the many meanings of love.”

For those previously unacquainted with the many works of Hrosvitha, born circa 930 C. E. — I’m among the unacquainted number — she was a canoness thought to be the first woman playwright. Surely, she wrote to lengthen and enhance the religious commitments of the nuns in her Gandersheim, Germany abbey.

Exactly what Horwitz intends with her “off-kilter medieval tragicomedy” is less apparent. Though patently intended to be comic — she elicited the disparate (desperate?) titter at the performance I attended — the tragic part attained is of a nature clearly not sought.

Eponymous figure Mary (Haley Wong), living in an age when dragons apparently abounded, is eight years old when introduced. She’s just lost her parents Oddo and Aeda to a plague (mirroring this century’s pandemic) that turns people to foam. She’s stranded. To her rescue come kindly monk Abraham (Susannah Perkins in a tonsure-featured wig) and stern monk Ephraim (Octavia Chavez-Richmond, also in a tonsure-featured wig). Their intention is to “betroth” Mary to God before anything untoward can happen to her.

Learning her name is Mary, the name of the Holy Mother, Abraham and Ephraim decide it’s incumbent on them to maximize her “Mary-ness.” Which they do to such an extent that for the next several years they raise her to a monastery position that requires constant singing, the ceaselessness of which eventually alienates her.

At 12 she runs off — there’s a good deal of on-stage running throughout — until she reaches an inn where the Master of the Inn (Claire Siebers) not only gives her room and board but falls for her. In time she’s visited by a Soldier (Kai Heath) in chainmail and several would-be lovers. Eventually, Abraham, at first garbed as the soldier and soon revealed, contrives to return her to the monastery. Once back there, she remains until she’s in her 70s.

Although it’s strongly implied that the current, just respiking plague is behind Horwitz’s comic paralleling of Hrosvitha’s plague, her purpose is obscure. Surely, she wants to squeeze comedy from a slant on religion, from Mary’s Mary-ness and her conflicted attitude toward it, from the risible behavior of Abraham and Ephraim as they shuffle about and read from prayer books, and play off one another.

Surely, she’s also commenting meaningfully, through comedy, on religious cogency during a period of threatening disease. The weight, comic or not, of that zealotry isn’t felt. Moreover, while love in the form of the many lovers as well as Abraham, the Master of the Inn, and the Soldier is expressed repeatedly, it doesn’t add up to  much of a point. Any evidence of “the prisons of society’s gendered expectations” — whatever that means —  is hardly prominent.

Little or nothing emerges within the classy set of curtains that You-Shin Chen has devised to indicate various whereabouts. Instead, Mary Gets Hers — the title carrying its own ironic threat — merely registers as a series of silly sketches during which five players are encouraged to overact and gladly meet the challenge. Mary may get hers, but as far as legit laughs go, none gotten here.