PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Testament of Mary—At Long Last, Her Side of the Story

By Harry Haun
23 Apr 2013

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Shattering the stained-glass image of Mary was not an easy thing to attempt. "It's powerful," he insisted. "If you go to any museum in Italy, any church, Madonna and Child are there, greeting you. She's powerful because she doesn't speak—because people can, I suppose, find radiating from her something or other that they can use."

Not this lapsed Catholic, said Toibin. "I'm a more common kind of Catholic these days—especially in our world—than the other kind of Catholic. I think that's why the Pope is worried—because there are so many of us out there who are lapsed."

Fiona Shaw turned out not to be the first to voice The Testament of Mary. That distinction went to Marie Mullen, who collected a 1988 Best Actress Tony for The Beauty Queen of Leenane — when the play had its world premiere in Dublin.

"Then I went back to the story again," Toibin remembered, "and added to it and did all sorts of things to it that made it into what I would call a novel, but other people would call a novella, and this was then published. Then I went back to it again, this time with Fiona and [director] Deborah [Warner], to create this text for the theatre."

Warner has been directing Fiona Shaw to great performances for a quarter of a century, so you would think each knows where the buttons are to be pushed and when. "Actually, we're very formal," Warner surprisingly put forth. "We know each other very, very well, but we're incredibly formal within the room. I think people who watch us think, 'Do these two people know each other?' We really do know each other. There's a formality. We don't enforce it. It just comes in.

"But there's also a shared appetite for adventure. For sure, there is. And there is the trust, I suppose, that allows each of us to be braver than we'd be without the other. People explore that kind of feeling. Those people who go off into the unknown who try to find the new mountain or the new world. You do tend to choose—all those who choose to climb difficult mountains—you choose good climbing partners. You choose people you've been with before. You do not choose a new team and hope they know the ropes. So I think it's a massively exciting challenge that lies in this. We couldn't have done this if we hadn't done 25 years of this stuff together."

So how long have they been working on their current teaming? "Well, intensively, six months," Warner estimated, "but certainly it's been in the air for a full year since Scott Rudin approached me. Even before that, it was swimming around in the ether."