Bay Windows, Boston (review)

Bay Windows, December 11, 2003
Bay Windows, December 11, 2003

On December 11th, 2003, Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary was reviewed in Bay Windows by R.J. Grub, who mentioned my work. “As a special touch, Providence-based puppeteer, The Marsian, contributed playful puppets to illustrate Mary and Joseph’s long journey to Bethlehem”

From Bay Windows , When Landry met Albee: A sacrilegious spoof
by R.J. Grubb, December 11, 2003:

Known for his madcap parodies of the classics, playwright Ryan Landry has remarked that nothing is sacred. If anyone questioned his sincerity, then his latest holiday redo leaves little doubt.

Called “Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?,” the production pushes holy buttons by casting the Blessed Virgin as a foul-mouthed, ill-mannered drunk. Last Friday, Dec. 5, the play opened at Machine with Mary (played by Landry) and her husband Joseph (Larry Coen) stumbling home after midnight mass. Dressed in a saintly robe and shawl, Mary takes a few drags from her cigarette, stomps on the stage wearing Birkenstocks, and flops on the couch with leftover Chinese takeout. Alternating between stuffing her face with noodles and smoking, she surveys her digs and sneers, “What a dump.”

It’s an understatement. With an empty 12-pack of Michelob Light, a tube of Pringles, scattered beer bottles, and jugs of wine mixed with the hay and chickens, their manger is downright mangy. Worse, after two thousand years, it looks like the royal Christian couple is on their last legs. But it’s here – stuck in this dump of a time warp since 1 B.C. – that Joseph and Mary spend a Christmas to remember.

This is no Nutcracker. Based on Edward Albee’s powerful “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the play marks Landry’s most controversial Christmas spoof to date. After lampooning Mommie Dearest in “Joan Crawford’s Christmas on the Pole” and the green meany “The Grinch,” Landry outdoes himself with a smoking, boozing, whoring Virgin Mary. Barring a performance on Christmas, the profane play runs through Dec. 27 at Machine.

Landry defends the blasphemy by saying the play marks a dramatic departure from his previous silly creations like “Charlie’s Angels in the Flaming Cave of the Tabacco Heiress.” Like his last play, “The Gulls,” Landry’s latest does pocket a hidden and solemn message. This time, the script shrewdly unravels our daily illusions, identity, and faith. Many of the faithful might not get the joke or care to hear the message. But with a script brimming with searing dialogue and an excellent cast that adds two new Equity actors to Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans, the production delicately walks that fine line between comedy and serious drama. The end result leaves “Virgin Mary” an unexpected satire with a great big heart.

As for its plot, Joseph and Mary supplant Albee’s warring couple George and Martha. When the handsome and jolly Santa-suited Nick (Bill Mootos) and his sexy but ditzy wife, Honey (Scott Martino), stop by the manger for a nightcap, the two couples embark on an all-night session of bitter barbs. They fight. Guzzle wine. Fight. Guzzle more wine. And eventually leak intimate secrets about Mary and Joseph’s missing son and how Nick keeps busy with the elves. Before the wine runs dry, the wooden rafters start creaking and one gets a feeling that the Blessed Virgin Mary is neither blessed nor a virgin.

Somehow, in the midst of this absurd plot, Landry follows Albee’s script. “Virginia Woolf” fans will enjoy lines like: “I swear if divorce existed I’d divorce you” or “You make me puke.” Still, what saves Landry’s script from becoming a simple, enjoyable spoof is how he faithfully keeps to Albee’s themes but expands the play’s message of emotional destructiveness and personal redemption.

Albee said that “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” translates into “Who is afraid to live without illusion?” And crossbreeding “Virginia Woolf” and the Nativity is where Landry makes his holiday magic. With Joseph and Mary’s tempestuous marriage percolating to the surface, Coen and Landry are delightfully vicious in their spousal attacks and one-upmanship. Mary says: “Ain’t that right, muckmouth?” Joseph retorts: “Right as rabies, my rabid pet.” Like Albee’s play, it becomes increasingly clear that their shared parental illusion sustains their union. Confronting the illusion, they stand to wreak devastating consequences.

Before Mary and Joseph unravel and face reality, Landry changes into various costumes like a tight-fitting Catholic schoolgirl uniform. He nods to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And takes a few jabs at the commercialization of Christmas. With the help of director James Byrne, Landry also lets his characters enjoy a fun hoedown to Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” (Just picture the Virgin Mary and Santa barn dancing to “Linus and Lucy”.) As a special touch, Providence-based puppeteer, The Marsian, contributed playful puppets to illustrate Mary and Joseph’s long journey to Bethlehem.

In the end, Landry had the entire audience howling with laughter. But Landry’s lewd and rude “Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?” did something else that was nothing short of a miracle. He actually gave deeper meaning to a diluted holiday. For a guy lacking sacred cows, it was a damn satisfying surprise.

Running until Dec. 27, “Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?” plays at 8 p.m. at Machine, 1254 Boylston St. Tickets $20. For reservations, call 617.265.6222.