A big Shakespeare nerd, when I saw that Theater for The New City was doing a production called Mary V, my curiosity was sparked. After all, the Henry histories are some of my favorites. I had never been to Theatre for The New City but had heard of it. When I arrived, I was impacted by the black box-type theater’s high ceilings and depth. The first thing that I noticed was that the set appeared to be minimal. One set of folding tables and chairs on either side of the space split by two “rehearsal doors.” Though sometimes you can be taken out of the world of a show by an overly simple set, that was not the case with Mary V. As the show began and progressed, I found that they used only what was necessary and that the show stood on it’s own carried only by the text and the actors’ commitment to the environment and world of the show.
The set remained simple throughout the show. During the intermission we were asked to go into the lobby for a change-over. Another aspect of the production value I noticed was their effective use of sound thanks to the design of Sebastian Gutierrez. Overall, the music they chose to underscore the production was effective and placed in moments that it’s presence elevated the text and the plot. One of my favorite aspects of the sound design was during intermission where they played a series of interviews and stories from cast members that reflected upon themes of the piece. It ended with great effect when one voice who stated that she eventually realized that many women have stories of experiences in sexual violence and that there were “too many stories.” With that closing line, the lights went out in sync with a rattling drum sound effect and act two commenced. The male and female ensembles moved like two well-oiled machines thanks to the wonderful direction of Charlotte Murray and assistant director Lizzie Kehoe.
From the top of the show I noticed a few stand out performance but by the end, I was invested in every single character. I truly believe that this is a testament to the actors’ lack of ego and focus on one another and the story. The first moment of the show was the prologue. The very diverse female ensemble stormed the stage and formed a v center stage. My eye was immediately drawn to Mahima Saigal who played Westmorland. The intensity and specificity of her gaze in the prologue where she did not speak made me take note to watch her closely throughout the show. Though there was much to watch and so much talent, I always found myself looking to see how her character was reacting to the action on stage. She was excellent support to her castmates and every time she spoke, the clarity of her dialogue was striking.
The entire female ensemble was incredibly strong. Shannon Spangler played Exeter and had an incredibly commanding voice. Her range and ability to balance the strength and vulnerability of the character was admirable. Paige Espinosa who played Bedford was a ticking time bomb. It was really fun to watch her observe the action. Resembling the likes of a predatory feline, when she contributed to the conversation it was always explosive to counter her otherwise eerie stillness and groundedness. The text flowed from the lips of Sarah Suzuki who played Court. Sheree V. Campbell who played Bardolph and Emily Oliveira who played Pistol provided infectious comic relief though their arch’s were not merely that. While they lightened the otherwise intense and perilous show, they were still incredibly dynamic and made a great team. Lindsey White who played the double agent Katherine did a wonderful job of embodying the demographic of women who feels like they can’t change women’s role in society. Her internal conflict was apparent and believable.
The male ensemble provided the best rag-tag group of blissfully ignorant men a female-centric story could ask for. The men did a great job presenting well-intentioned arguments creating a dialogue and discussion that both the story and us as viewers need. Liam Sweeney was sweet and likeable as Montjoy. Though his presence was commanding, he was dynamic in physicality dependent on who he was talking to, especially with a certain king. Carter Gaylord played Henry, the arrogant, villainous foil to Mary. While Gaylord made Henry a despicable villain, he also created a lot of dynamic. While the other characters weren’t listening, Carter revealed that Henry not unlike the ladies had fallen victim to society’s structure, specifically the effects of society’s masculinity complex which led to his arrogance and eventual downfall. Gabriel Rosario relieved the tension of the show with his light-heartedness and genuine nature every time he spoke. His skilled combat in combination with his aptitude for vulnerability created great support for his cast. Matthew Courson, Ahkai Franklin, James Johnston, Michael Barnette, and Justin Desilets do a great job of providing the perspectives of entirely different men on the topics of gender politics. The entire company male and female were incredibly skilled with stage combat and classical text.
Rebekah Carrow starred as Mary V and also wrote the play, no doubt a huge feat. The text was rich and did a wonderful job mirroring Henry V and remaining relevant to the themes of the play. Her deep understanding of classical literature is apparent in not only the well-crafted story but also in her delivery of many soliloquies each different. At the top of the show, Mary was mainly angry. I hoped that we’d see a different side of her throughout and Carrow certainly delivered. Providing us with a likeable, flawed, strong, funny, and vulnerable hero, Carrow did an amazing job of walking us through a discussion that we so desperately need to have.
Often in gender politics there is a stigma of what it means to be a feminist. As the discussion of gender politics has continued, there are some specific perspectives that have become apparent and Carrow’s play did a wonderful job of representing all of them. The play investigated masculinity complex and how it breeds violence in men leading to more sexual assault and oppression of women. It also investigates many double standards found within the sticky realm of gender politics. I think the most important thing it did was scream that we as a generation are different. In my favorite moment of the play where Exeter and Male Exeter face off center stage and then admit their past experiences that have led them to be at arms, they realize that they are not so different after all and that this conflict has been carefully created by generations before but they have the power to change it. The play ends with a call to action encouraging the audience to finish what they started leaving you empowered and excited as you leave the theater.
I asked Carrow what inspired her to use Henry V as source material. She told me that she chose to use one of Henry’s monologues for class at Atlantic Evening Conservatory and her investigation of the text in her own voice rather than a traditional male perspective on the role caused her to be curious about gender-bent production of Henry V where the women would fight the war and the men would act as the prizes. She expressed, “Henry V is considered a great king but when you read the source material through a contemporary lens, you have to ask different questions, and having a woman take on the role forces you to look at the material differently.” Mary V was first produced by Theatre for The New City at their Dream Up Festival last year and was brought back by popular demand. She hopes to see it produced more in the future and I do to as I feel that it’s a valuable piece that creates a conversation we need to be having.
Mary V at Theater for The New City is a must-see. It’s discussion of gender politics, thrilling stage fights choreographed by Joe DiNozzi and directed by Grace Clower, and extremely talented cast makes it not only a great evening of new theatre but also sparks a great discussion for weeks to come. Mary V runs from now until June 14th. Get your tickets here.