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Open: 03/13/09- Close: 04/04/09 The Tidings Brought To Mary
Reviewed for By: Shari Perkins
Michael Abrams ©2021  Harlan Work, Laura Bozzone

Paul Claudel's The Tidings Brought to Mary, which hasn't been seen in New York since 1923, has been given an elegant and thought-provoking production by the Storm Theatre and Blackfriars Repertory Theatre.

Although it is billed as a mystery play, Claudel's poetic drama achieves its spiritual resonance by focusing on the private lives of one family in medieval France. The main theme of Paul Claudel's play is sacrifice. The story revolves around two sisters, Mara and Violaine Vercors. While the younger sister, Mara, is scrupulously honest, she is bitter about the advantages her sweet-tempered elder sister possesses: the love of family and friends, the inheritance of the best portions of the family property, and a promising fiancé. Nineteen-year-old Violaine sees only happiness before her, despite the political and religious upheaval which is tearing her homeland apart. In a moment of empathy for another's suffering, Violaine kisses a leper and contracts the disease herself. Forced to leave home and give up her earthly goods and fiancé to Mara, Violaine transforms into an almost holy figure who can give life to others while she has none of her own. In The Tidings Brought to Mary, existence is not about living: it's "not a question of building the cross, but hanging from it and giving what we have joyfully."

Michael Abrams ©2021  Erin Beirnard, Laura Bozzone

Director Peter Dobbins stages the play with restraint and simplicity. The opening scene between Violaine (Erin Beirnard) and her former suitor, leper Pierre De Craon (Douglas Taurel), is particularly effective. The scenes between the Vercors family members which make up the majority of the play are strong and frequently touching. Unfortunately, the only crowd scene in the play lacks the focused polish of the rest; the uneven performances cannot conceal the scene's clunky exposition.

Dobbins and his company have focused on finding a classical, clear performance style, finding the humanity in the play's poetry. The actors execute the complex text with varying levels of competence. Beirnard, with her melodious voice, is a standout, as is Taurel. Jenny D. Green gives a touching performance as mother Elizabeth Vercors, who struggles and fails to keep her family intact. Laura Bozzone as Mara has a strong stage presence and an always-expressive face, but finds few colors in her character beyond anger and outrage. Harlan Work is appealing as Jacques, Violaine's fiancé, although he handles the text with less assurance than his castmates.

Michael Abrams ©2021  Ross DeGraw, Erin Beirnard

Czerton Lim's minimalistic set blends the rough brick walls of the Paradise Factory with a heavy wood-framed structure and soil-and-sawdust-strewn floor, evoking both the medieval world of the Vercours family and Christ's birthplace. The set design is complemented by Michael Abram's simple, elegant lighting. Jessica Toby Lustig creates attractive, colorful period garb for the cast. Particularly notable is Mara's first act costume, a blue dress with metallic red threading which glows almost diabolically. Unfortunately, Michael Roberts' sound design falls short of his collaborators' work: although he offers attractive preshow music, his internal cues sound tinny and mechanical.

Despite its few rough spots, The Tidings Brought to Mary is a well-produced and thought-provoking production of a rarely-seen play.

Paradise Factory : 64 East 4th Street