Little Mary

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The Play

LITTLE MARY (4m, 2f)

Bishop Peter Tivoli is an outspoken and progressive church leader who has turned his Catholic mission outside Los Angeles into a self-sustaining farming collective.

He openly encourages conservation, women as priests and contraception while denouncing overconsumption and overpopulation. The Vatican seeks to silence the Bishop and sends Cardinal-Dean Victorio Gian to California.

Upon his arrival at the Mission in the Desert, the Cardinal is introduced to Christina, a brilliant and beautiful fifteen-year-old Mexican-American. She is pregnant with seven babies, but medically still a virgin. God, she claims, has spoken to her. The children are His.

When the media learns of the story, the news explodes around the globe. The two men struggle with the nature of their faith, their worldly ambitions, and each other as they take sides over the “miracle” of a pregnant virgin whom the media crowns, “Little Mary.”

The play raises many questions about faith and politics in the Catholic Church while also addressing issues as wide-ranging as overpopulation, world hunger, the energy crisis, and global warming.

 

Reviews

The Virgin Deicides
by Marlon Hurt

Only in the most fanatical believers do the twin monoliths of faith and religious doctrine always stand in unison and not occasionally at loggerheads. As anyone who has been caught between the two can attest, from Martin Luther on down, when the message of one's heart and of one's church disagree, the spiritual pain can be excruciatingly acute. The greatest accomplishment of William S. Leavengood's ruminative new drama, Little Mary, is that it manages to translate that friction undiminished across religious and denominational divides.

For the politically progressive Archbishop Tivoli (the wonderful Ron Orbach), head of a small Catholic mission situated in the desert some 60 miles east of Los Angeles, this friction is more painful than most. He has taken as his cause overpopulation and the ever-increasing strain it places on the planet's resources. Birth rate reduction, however, is not exactly in accord with the divine command to be fruitful and multiply.

This is made abundantly clear with the arrival of Tivoli's mentor, the kindly Cardinal Gian (Jeremy Lawrence), who admits he has been dispatched from Rome to either dissuade Tivoli from preaching the subject or, failing that, to have the archbishop excommunicated. However, such censorial considerations are quickly supplanted by the announcement that Tivoli's 15-year-old star pupil, Christina (Monica Raymund), is pregnant, that she is still a virgin, that God is the father, and that she carries not one but seven unborn saviors. The message that Christina says the children represent, told to her through dreams, sends shockwaves that stir even the powerful College of Cardinals in Rome.

Leavengood wisely mirrors the New Testament only once or twice, and then only faintly. (The most blatant instance that I noticed was when Tivoli's assistant, Mother Lulit, played by Robyn Hatcher, tries to cull the "truth" from Christina�tempting her to change her story, as it were�as the two sit in the desert.) Otherwise, the play's focus is set squarely on the rapidly evolving dynamics of those characters who believe the girl and those who do not.

With Steve Mitchell's warmly evocative set as a backdrop�a beautiful wood floor supports various chairs and a pew, bordered in back by sliding panels that reveal a statue of the Virgin Mary when open and that form the shape of a cross when closed�the production luxuriates in argument and counterargument. The constant pondering never thickens into ponderousness, though, thanks in no small part to the energy and skill of the cast.

As Tivoli, Orbach skillfully captures the exasperation of trying to change the world, only to have his progress maddeningly undermined by his own message. So effective is Orbach's work that when, in a drunken scene late in the play, Tivoli actually laughs�no matter how ruefully�the air goes thick with his despair.

The standard of performance is no lower anywhere else. As Gian, Lawrence uses his small frame effectively, first as a compassionate but weary old man and later as a rejuvenated, boyish true believer. Hatcher as Mother Lulit, a former African priestess before Tivoli wandered into her village as a missionary some years back, is wonderfully plainspoken. Less interesting is Raymund�s turn as the beatific Christina; Raymund is capable, but the teenager�s combination of na�vet� and unshaken spiritual poise leaves little room to maneuver. Conversely, Kaipo Schwab as Christina's opportunistic father and Nelson Avidon as the Machiavellian Cardinal Savici are both delightfully oily.

It is the performances of these last two, perhaps, that best illuminate Little Mary's real strength: Leavengood does not succumb to the temptation to finger out a Judas. Nearly every character, at one point or another, finds himself or herself playing the snake in the Garden. Nor does Leavengood give in to any kind of childish eagerness to explain away his mystery. Questions remain. The piece demands our powers of interpretation and thus our continued attention. Despite a wholly unnecessary final scene, Little Mary is a fully realized and unexpectedly rich meditation on that most basic irony: the uncertainty of faith.