The current Broadway play Peter and the Starcatcher is a captivating prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan that speaks of the effect of lost mothers on little boys and even unloved, scalawag pirates. We all know about lost boys and puckish fairies from Peter Pan, but a 1920 Barrie play, Mary Rose, goes deeper into the realm of eternal children, ghostly presences and missing mothers. It is a more austere companion to the fanciful flourishes of Peter Pan, sharing and deepening similar themes of loss and veiled worlds.
Rep Stage, under the direction of Michael Stebbins, has revived the seldom-seen Mary Rose and strikes the right balance between a cozy drawing room mystery and an ethereal, haunting glimpse into how tragically time can trick us and how staying forever young and guileless is anything but a dream realized.
The well-made, three-act play (condensed into two acts; more on that later) drifts between the past and present, starting in 1919 in the cold and sparsely furnished former English manor house of the Morland family. Harry (Eric M. Messner), a strapping Aussie returned from World War I, clumps around what once were his old stomping grounds. He finds the home, in the parlance of whodunits, greatly altered.
It is not just the missing furniture or the lack of warmth. The place is creepy, a point confirmed by the housekeeper Mrs. Otery (Marilyn Bennett), who has shriveled away from nerves and the ghostly goings-on. Harry falls into a reverie by the sputtering fire and is transported back to 1889, when the Morlands were practically giddy with happiness.
The drawing room comes alive with light, art, flowers and accoutrements—all brought in during one of the play’s interminable scene changes, made all the more a trial by the addition of rinky-dink canned Celtic music. Mr. Morland (Bill Largess) amicably spars with his friend Mr. Amy (Tony Tsendeas) over their collections of art prints, while Mrs. Morland (Maureen Kerrigan) merrily keeps the peace in her well-run household.
What keeps the house humming is their daughter Mary Rose (Christine Demuth), a young woman who still likes to play and race about like a tomboy. But, her suitor Simon Blake (Mr. Messner in a dual role), has other plans for Mary Rose. The Morlands are thrilled about the engagement, but feel the need to tell him about an incident in the past when Mary Rose was around 10 and the family took a holiday in the Hebrides.
Mary Rose vanishes on a tiny island known by the locals as “the island that likes to be visited.” She reappears a month later, not remembering where she had been or for how long.
The play flashes forward to 1894, with Mary a married lady and with a baby left at home while she and Simon vacation once again in the Hebrides. Insistent on picnicking on the island, Mary Rose disappears—this time for 25 years.
When she resurfaces a quarter-century later, the homecoming is strange instead of jubilant. Mary Rose’s youth and playful streak is not darling this time; instead her presence is jarring and discordant. She stares at her elderly parents and middle-aged husband as if she has seen a ghost.
The magic that island possesses is a hushed ruination. It provides an irresistible allure to those who succumb—we never really know what Mary Rose experiences during this lost time; the only clue is that a villager Cameron (Adam Downs) reports that when she was found asleep on the beach after 25 years, her smile radiated incredible joy.
The play casts an undeniable spell, but often the Rep Stage production disrupts its haunted air. The afore mentioned set changes seem to take an eternity and even the overly loud sound effects of crackling fire, twittering birds and that blasted twang-y Celtic music cannot completely cover over the thumping and clanging.
And the first act lasts nearly two hours and at times proceeds at a sleepwalking pace, especially during the periods when gusts of exposition blow across Morland manor. Things pick up considerably in the shorter second act, especially when Simon and Mary Rose cavort on the island with the delightfully sanguine Cameron, but then there are more scenes depicting Mr. and Mrs. Morland adorably nattering about old age and old resentments with Mr. Amy and you just want run screaming into the parking lot.
Closes November 18, 2012
Rep Theatre at the Horowitz Center
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044
2 hours 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $34 – $40
Thursdays thru Sundays
The acting tends toward the uneven, but Mr. Largess and Miss Kerrigan are vibrant and affecting as a devoted married couple who complement each other—his testiness is tempered by her good-natured wisdom. Mr. Messner movingly delineates the two characters—the larky and indulgent Simon versus the brooding, chip-on-his-shoulder Harry.
The central role of Mary Rose is more problematic. Miss Demuth visually captures the lightness and quickness of a girl trapped in a bell jar. Yet we would like to have seen more of her ethereal side and less of her somewhat bratty, beseeching nature.
In Mary Rose, the island gives and also takes away—the happiness of those left behind to wonder and mourn, the innocence of young girls who willingly slip between two worlds. In the end, however, it is Mary Rose who is neither here nor there, a restless soul caught between a reality she can barely remember and a spirit realm she can’t forget.
Mary Rose. Written by J.M. Barrie. Directed by Michael Stebbins . Featuring Marilyn Bennett, Christine Demuth, Adam Downs, Maureen Kerrigan, Bill Largess, Eric M; Messner and Tony Tsendeas. Designers: Celestine Ranny-Howes (costume designer), Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden (set designer), Jay Herzog (lighting designer), Nancy Krebs (dialect/vocal coach), Natalia Chavez Leimkuhler (properties designer), and Ann Warren (sound designer). Produced by Rep Stage. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.