Mary Berry Presents: The Life Of Mary Berry
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
August 19, 2006
Mary Berry introduces herself as a young woman who is so beautiful that she has no friends; she yearns for love, but believes that, since she is so terribly pretty, men are too intimidated to approach her. Though actress Katie Cunningham is lovely, Mary's delusion is writ large, and it turns out that her mother (played by Andrea Gallo) has been filling her with such ideas pretty much since birth. Mary also has a gay brother (Adam Farabee), a father who is also gay but in very deep denial (Michael McGregor Mahoney), and, later, a surrogate brother in a young Brazilian fellow dad brings home, Leo (Arlyn Mick). Outside the family circle, in a series of self-help videos, is a character called Mr. Time Winters (Ari Vigoda). In an effort to turn his son straight, Dad offers him an old copy of Playboy; said magazine ends up in Mary's hands, and she is captivated by the beautiful women inside. She decides to go to Hollywood to enter the Miss Fourth of July Contest, inspired by the nude models' gorgeous forms. Meanwhile, Mary's brother and Leo end up together, Mary's mother confesses to having had an affair, Mary's father leaves, and Mary finally returns home, depressed, miserable, but at last able to express what she's actually feeling instead of relying on bromides to pretend to a happiness she has never felt.
Sound like a mess? Well, it kind of is. At this point Mary Berry Presents: The Life of Mary Berry lacks a cohesive center. Is this Mary's story, as promised at the outset? (If so, then why does she disappear for nearly half the play?) Is it the mother's? The brother's? Ensemble comedies are a wonderful thing, but they still require a single point around which to revolve. There are so many ideas in Mary Berry that the play never has a chance to pull together. Much of the play is genuinely funny; unfortunately, much of it is also familiar at this point, and without a strong new idea to drive the play, playwright William Brian Smith has yet to craft a fully satisfying work.
Mary herself seems the freshest notion here. Unfortunately, Cunningham's performance lacks variety—even when Mary desperately wants something, the performance is so placid that nothing registers. Farabee, as the brother, is energetic, but unpolished. Vigoda is smarmy in a non-role that adds little to the proceedings; just what the tapes are meant to do, or what world they're from, is never satisfactorily explained, and those speeches add little to the proceedings beyond covering scene changes. Mick offers strong support despite a geographically untraceable accent. The finest acting comes from Mahoney, whose underplaying pays huge dividends, and Gallo. In the role of the conservative Christian mother from hell, Gallo brings wit and immense comic sizzle to what could be an overly familiar type. Her every moment is sharp, specific, and hilarious. It's her show to steal, and steal it she does.
As director, Smith has staged the show fairly well, but a different set of eyes and ears might have helped him shape a script that offers several pleasures, but could still use greater focus.