note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Mary … Ryan Landry
Joe … Larry Coen
Honey … Penny Champagne
Nick … Bill Mootos
Salvation Army Angel … Olive DuBoogie
Ryan Landry’s Yuletide offering is set in the hovel of Joseph and Mary, complete with manger animals, down in the Holy Land. Joseph is a carpenter; his wife, Mary, miraculously gave birth to a son (not Joseph’s) over three decades ago and is still virgo intacta. Mary is loud-mouthed, alcoholic and frustrated; she constantly berates Joseph for having neither guts nor ambition (she is God’s appointed daughter and feels she deserves better). Joseph endures Mary’s abuse though he gives as good as gets (he thrusts and parries where Mary bludgeons). And then there’s Mary’s son, Jesus, who is expected home for his birthday…. On this particular Christmas Eve, Joseph and Mary return from church where the hit of the evening was the song “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Ghost?”. Mary, already tanked, announces that a young couple, new to the area, is stopping by for a nightcap. Joseph protests; Mary insists. Enter St. Nick and his wife Honey (daughter of Jack Frost), to all appearances the picture-perfect young couple; but, ah, underneath…. What begins as a nightcap turns into an evening of psychological games: by play’s end, all of the characters’ falsehoods, lies and pretensions have been summoned up, shattered and swept away, leaving Joseph and Mary clinging to each other amidst the dawn and the rubble --- and no prizes should you guess what well-known American play Mr. Landry is cleverly sending up.
This may all sound quite outrageous, but WHO’S AFRAID OF THE VIRGIN MARY? is no more shocking or blasphemous than the famous Second Shepherds’ Play from the Middle Ages in which the rogue Mak passes his wife and a sheep off as Mother and Child and gets tossed in a blanket for his tricks or, going back even farther, any ancient Greek comedy that poked fun at its society’s gods --- when the father of Mr. Ryan’s Mary rumbles in the heavens, he could easily be Zeus himself, toying with a thunderbolt. Some may be relieved that the Catholic Church survives intacta, itself; others may be disappointed at the lack of coke-sniffing and exposed female genitalia and other Orphan trademarks. Rest assured, there are plenty of lusty laughs in WHO’S AFRAID OF THE VIRGIN MARY? but many Orphan fans may not notice or remember Mr. Landry’s serious side: Madame X’s death scene; Egg (in ROSEMARY’S BABY) yearning to be born into a loving family; Camille and (S)Carrie being doomed to remain social outcasts; Mildred Deerce ignoring a sweet, loving daughter in favor of a cruel, greedy one; THE GULLS’ mourning the passing of a way of life in Provincetown, and, especially, THE BAD SEED, which broke neatly in half between whacked-out farce and tear-jerking drama. THE BAD SEED gave solid evidence of what Mr. Landry & Co. could do, drama-wise; with WHO’S AFRAID OF THE VIRGIN MARY?, they come close to doing it: Mr. Landry remains close to the original play’s black humor (once shocking in its own day), tweaking it only when he feels he needs to (as in Nick’s disclosure of why he married Honey); when the serious moments slip in (belonging primarily to Joseph), he and director James P. Byrne follow through without teetering into Camp --- the result is not unlike a day-glo butterfly, newly hatched, drying its wings and preparing to fly off to new, undiscovered meadows.
The Messrs. Landry and Byrne have done a “Huntington” this time around by bringing in two local “name” actors to give their show some clout as well as dramatic oomph: Larry Coen is a valuable newcomer to the troupe, proving to be as much Mr. Landry’s on-stage rock as his Joseph is to the latter’s Mary; a director himself, Mr. Coen guides Mr. Landry along to giving a near-performance while turning in a solid one, himself; on the other hand, live-wire Bill Mootos is surprisingly defused as a slim, clean-shaven St. Nick; he emits a few of his sparks in Act Two, when Nick snaps back at his hosts. Olive DuBoogie does a memorable cameo as a chirpy-sweet Salvation Nell(y) who turns gravel-mouthed when crossed; as Honey, Penny Champagne, who put THE BAD SEED in her pocket with her moving alcoholic, goes home with this VIRGIN MARY in her beaded purse. Coiffed and garbed as if she escaped from a retro-50s Christmas card, Ms. Champagne is ditzy fun as a sort-of ladylike bodybuilder seriously deficient in the brain department (pipe the muscle-gams!); her pausing in her dance to strike a pose right out of Vogue is inspired zaniness. The manger animal puppets have been designed by the Marsian, featuring a cud-chewing donkey and the most startling entrance by a pig in years.
At show’s end, Mr. Landry announced that he will be bringing his troupe to New Orleans after the holidays to perform in a Tennessee Williams festival; his entry: his version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, entitled … but why tell you when you can hear Mr. Landry graciously do so in person? The Orphans will not be back until late spring upon which they will take up their summer residence in Provincetown, so you’d best catch up with them at the Ramrod, now.
You know you want to go.