On December 12, 2003, from The Edge covered Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?, Ryan Landry’s holiday adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in which I designed, built, and performed puppets. In the write up, my contribution to the production was characterized as “dead funny puppeteering”
From Who’s Afraid Of the Virgin Mary? by David Foucher, EDGE Publisher:
You know Ryan and those Orphans: take Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Stephen King, or another legendary auteur of film or literature, throw in drag hysteria, political satire and gay-themed comedy, mix thoroughly and voila! A drop-dead laugh riot which levels three snaps at its chewing gum budget on its way to irreverent theatre history every damn time.
Ah, but not so with Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary?, the Orphan’s latest show playing at Machine this month. A seasonal twist on Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf? this production may be farcical, but it’s not a farce. Landry has finally dug his platform heels into legit theatre, inventing what may be the preeminent formula for real gender-bending drama (dragma?) and humbly serving it up as a slice of holiday dessert. Go – eat it up.
Landry plays Mary (yes, that Mary, the uber-chaste mother of Christianity) against Larry Coen’s Joseph – these characters are the equivalent of the bickering George and Martha of Albee’s play. The central action follows their return from Church (as opposed to a faculty dinner) and the resurgence of aged, vitriolic emotional battles between the two. Caught up in the mix are Nick (played by Bill Mootos as the Nick of the North Pole) and new wife Honey (Penny Champagne, who in line with the original play comes into her namesake): the young Clauses stop over innocently for drinks but get snowed in by the debilitating, vicious games of their hosts.
The play is quick, fast-paced and deceptively short. It’s also a brilliant adaptation of Albee’s themes into more comedic situations, which for the Gold Dust Orphans is a culmination of the highest order: Landry has written in homage to the play, but has also written a work of its own true merits; it’s not a laugh riot (although parts of it will have you howling), it’s a full-bodied literary piece with dramatic tension, sadness, irony, and shockingly good performances.
Most likely, you have seen Landry perform in short fits throughout his earlier pursuits always a show-stopping character, but almost never the title character. In Virgin Mary he moves front and center, delivering not just an inspired performance but also the surpassing significance of his dedication to OUR side of the theatrical arts. In the play’s most placid moment he narrates with jaw-slackening pathos the Christmas story (counterpointed by dead funny puppeteering)… it took until that moment for me to fully comprehend the deliberate nature of Landry’s artistic intent. Not merely content to deliver the audience-pleasing, ticket-assured efforts from whence he began, Landry means to push our boundaries into realms unexplored: where honest art can be found amidst the rubble of makeshift sets, ill-equipped venues and the trappings of Mac cosmetics applied over stubble.
Traveling this road with Landry are his accomplished co-stars: the eminent Penny Champagne, who is a star in her own right as she delivers take after take of solid performance in every Gold Dust show, and Coen and Mootos, who are the first equity actors to appear with the troupe, and whose performances bear out their merits, acting as they are in about as non-traditional a venue as a courageous artist could hope to explore.
In fact, there is very little traditional about Who’s Afraid of the Virgin Mary? from a religious, theatrical, comedic or drag point of view; that’s precisely what makes it vital, and the #1 must-see show of this holiday season.