Mary, Mary, written in 1961 by Jean Kerr (husband of renowned theater critic Walter Kerr) has enjoys periodic restaging over the years, including this most recent run at the intimate lower Manhattan Gene Frankel Theatre.
The largely breezy story kicks off as Bob (Chris Harcum), a struggling publisher, is set up to meet with his ex-wife of nine months, Mary (Heather E. Cunningham) in order to review past expenses in preparation for a tax audit. Their old friend and accountant Oscar (Desmond Dutcher) has arranged the meeting, and although Bob’s vapid, younger fiancée Tiffany (Meghan E. Jones) wants to meet Mary, Bob ushers her out of the house (but not for long).
Additionally, Dirk (Robert Franklin Neil), an old Navy buddy of Bob’s and now a Hollywood actor, has recently moved into the building and wants Bob to publish his less than stellar memoir. While Mary and Bob rehash old times, good and bad, Dirk becomes smitten with Mary and begins to woo her, leaving the characters and the audience to wonder whether Mary will opt to pursue a new life with Dirk or reunite with Bob.
Set design by Jack and Rebecca Cunningham is spot on for the period, giving director Shay Gines an excellent landscape on which to stage the actors. Costumes by Ben Philipp are also well-thought out and in alignment with the characters.
The actors in this small cast are very committed to their roles. Harcum as the grumpy, nerve-jangled Bob steams through the story; Cunningham as Mary earnestly jokes her way around her insecurities and Dirk’s advances. Jones as Tiffany bubbles through her part, and Dutcher and Neil steadfastly play their male sidekick parts with aplomb.
Yet for all the funny lines in this romantic comedy, written by the author of the more famous “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, this production of Mary, Mary garners few laughs. It isn’t that the actors aren’t trying; more adept direction would have guided them toward better comic timing and tighter humorous synapses.
Furthermore, Mary, Mary is by no means the best in its “rom com” class. Although the play’s original run lasted over four years and it eventually became a 1963 movie starring Debbie Reynolds, the show runs a bit long and its plot, characters and humor aren’t consistently interesting or convincing. The best moments in the show are the more sincerer exchanges between Mary and Bob or Mary and Dirk, proving the piece to be more “rom” than “com”, and to the credit of the actors, not the play itself.
Kudos to the cast for giving it their best go, and to Retro Productions for their charitable fundraising efforts and for keeping classic American theater alive.
For a better time, butter your popcorn, put your feet up and rent The Philadelphia Story.
Mary, Mary (through May 18, 2019), Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (Between Lafayette & Bowery), in Manhattan. For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit here.