Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – Cleaver Girl
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
While I was watching Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman at Baltimore Annex Theater a few days ago, I started to get pissed. Not at the show, you understand. I was pissed at the reasons that this show is still so goddamned relevant. I started to think about how, well, of course women have a hard time running the world – our heads are stuffed from birth with all of this ridiculous information that They trick us into thinking is important. I have a hard time conjuring up the name of our current state senators, for instance, but I can sure as fuck tell you how many calories are in a bagel. That’s hard to admit. I’m a feminist, you see. My bathrooms are generally about as clean as my vag. But still, it’s true. Hartman is based on a parody-soap of the same name that ran for only a year in the mid-1970s but left a cannon of over three hundred episodes behind. The seventies really birthed the sort of irony that we are still enjoying (?) today. For the first time, women could actually say out loud the kind of thing that they’d been thinking for years. Vacuuming blows. PTA sucks. Fuck this noise, you can make your own cupcakes. They could viciously laugh at Mary Hartman, worrying about her waxy floors while her husband is out the door tomcatting around, and still feel honestly connected to her. Director Maggie Villegas (who also adapted the script) clearly loves this subject matter and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d actually watched all three hundred some episodes of this. The play is loaded with cutesy touches that make it special; the way that the props arrive just as the actors need them, handed from behind the curtain (just out of the frame, see), the special TV commercials that run pre-show, slyly slipping in resident company members standing in for the original actors, the cool staging that shows two actors in bed together vertically. It unfortunately needed to end at least thirty minutes before it actually did (we got the joke and it had started to wear a bit thin) but otherwise, I think she was right on target with her instincts on this one. She directs in a sort of flat way that makes the TV-to-stage medium jump surprisingly resonant and deeply weird. Natch, she’s greatly aided by her star, Carly J. Bales. Bales kills as the wackadoodle Barbie that is Mary Hartman. Her strangely forced nurturing tones, the desperation in her eyes as she tries to get her Mary Tyler snore of a husband, Tom (Rjyan Kidwell) to fuck her once in awhile, her horny stares at local top cop Sgt. Dennis Foley (an excellently Faboio-esque Rick Gerriets). She manages to channel the original AND make it totes unique. This is a celebration of a performance, a showing of someone who really, really gets it. I liked Kidwell here more than I ever have (and I’ve liked him before). He comes into his own as the slightly blank and bizarrely aggressive Tom. He’s tuned in, he’s on the frequency. He and Bales are super good at making a connection fail and it’s hilarious and depressing all rolled up into one. Madison Cohen as hapless Heather Hartman robs all her scenes, tho. She is hysterical, her lispy, bracefaced pronunciation and sarcastic stares had me in stitches. I also altogether enjoyed Gina Denton as Mary’s mama, Martha, dispensing “mother’s little helper” pills from her tits instead of milk and never quite listening. There is a huge tertiary cast here with sparkly touches provided by Connor Kizer’s cranky’n’lecherous ol’ Grandpa Larkin (I was both intrigued and really did not want to see what was under that trench coat) and Alexis Tantau’s Loretta Haggers, Mary’s neighbor, who is a little less Tammy Wynette and a little more Lurleen Lumpkin. I liked the pop-up dollhouse vibe of the set (design by Emona Stoykova). The costumes (design by Samantha Bloom) were perfectly right-on. These candy-and-sherbet colored women looked seventies natural and the slightly faded out quality of the colors recalled television sets from that era. Just lovely.
BOTTOM LINE: The thing with Annex is when you go, you not only get something to watch, you get something to see. And Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is really something to see. The cast Steinhams it up in a retro hell that lets you scrub the waxy buildup from between your ears and think on the (un)changing of the world. It’s an homage, it’s an original, it’s a great time.
Running at Baltimore Annex Theater until February 8th
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