The most unnoticed irony in life may well be the fact that the best-known Mary of all time is also the least-known Mary of all time, certainly the least documented--idolized and iconicized okay, but not really humanly known—that is, until now.
Into this bottomless pit of speculation and fiction has leapt Irish writer Colm Tóibín to fill in the Carlsbad Cavern-sized holes surrounding history's most misunderstood and mined plot-peg, giving her the voice of the great Fiona Shaw, who delivers The Testament of Mary at the Walter Kerr Theatre, which opened April 22, in achingly accessible terms.
The Mary that Toibin has wholly imagined has taken up residence in Ephesus after the Crucifixion. Her home seems to be a world of easy anachronisms—water faucet and folding chairs and unfiltered cigarettes—on a sparsely appointed stage.
Off to the side is an empty, throne-like chair "that love once filled," but she is shrilly assured by the believers, "Your son is coming back!" To head off further discussion of the matter, she airily announces, "It's for my husband," halting the talk totally.
This missing son is never mentioned by name, making the unrelenting grief of Mary much the same as Everymother's. Certainly, her understanding of her son's world is whittled down to a maternal view. Of the questionable company he keeps, she observes, "He gathered around him, I said, a group of misfits, only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye, men who were seen smiling to themselves." She shrugs helplessly, knowingly.
A mother like this is going to miss her son's greatness completely. When people assure her the life, teachings and example of her boy is going to change the world, she is visibly taken aback. "All of it?" she asks in disbelief, denying him full credit.
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