Entertainment » Theatre

Princess Mary Demands Your Attention

by Beth Dugan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 28, 2015
Baron L. Clay, Jr., Pam Mack and Armand Fields
Baron L. Clay, Jr., Pam Mack and Armand Fields  (Source:Michael Brosilow)

The new play by Bailiwick Chicago's resident playwright Aaron Holland, "Princess Mary Demands Your Attention" is a wonderful riotous celebration of the human ability to be both your own worst enemy and the solution to all of your problems.

This is the sweet story of a quiet young gay man named Amari (Mari for short) who lives with his mother, the Duchess, in Portland. He is in the constant shadow of his elder brother, who joined the army and is in Germany for his service. As is often the case, the Duchess focuses on the absent child's idealized persona and the present child's actual and exaggerated faults.

Twenty-year-old Mari lives a controlled life. He counts his steps to his clerk job at a convenience store owned by a family friend, a wonderfully pot-sodden man named Stacy who is also the Duchess' childhood friend and Mari's confessor. He is afraid of strangers on the street. He takes care of the Duchess, making her coffee, breakfast, waking her up, practicing the piano as she commands. He is shy and closed off.

As he walks to his job one day he meets three young men from the neighborhood, all gay and great friends who are filled with life and fun. Bastian, Nathaniel and Christian befriend Mari, spend time in his basement smoking weed, gossiping and trying to get Mari out of his shell. Mari takes a special liking to Christian. All of the young men are sweet and kind to Mari, treating him with the casual affection of an old friend.

When Mari's birthday comes around, the three men do a make-over, and take Mari to a club to show him the fun that can be had dancing and partying in the foam and lights and atmosphere of reckless fun. They set him up with Hot Barry, who gets a little too handsy on the dance floor.

Mari overreacts and the incident, which is swift and uncomfortable, sends Mari reeling back into his self-imposed hiding. The men try to lure him out again, especially Christian, but Mari retreats. For ten years.

All the while Mari is struggling, first with the discomfort of making new and flamboyant friends, and then with his small life, his job, his increasingly critical mother and his own nightmares, a drag queen, mostly silent and completely focused on Mari stalks him on the stage. She dances, bumps and grinds, lip syncs to divas, and often finishes her numbers with a flourish and the splits as the lights go down. Mari can barely acknowledged her on the periphery of his life. She is obviously annoyed with him.

Watching Mari struggle with what he wants from life and his deep and abiding fears is a wonderfully voyeuristic experience. Armand Fields vulnerable portrayal of Mari is warm and open. Fields' smile is wide and sweet and though the play spans ten years, there is a subtle transition between innocent Mari and the later jaded Mari and then the Mari who emerges.

The three men who help draw Mari out of his shell, played by TJ Crawford, David Kaplinsky and Omer Abbas Salem, stole every scene they were in and were mesmerizing in their chemistry together. In the second act when they were not on stage for a while, I found myself missing their warmth and humor. Every character in the play, with the unfortunately exception of Hot Barry (not the actor's fault, Barry was a means to an end), had depth and complexity that was surprising.

The Duchess, who could have been a crazy old tyrant who ordered around her shy gay son ended up being a complicated woman with triumphs and and failures of her own, and her love of Mari was deep but shrouded. This play was a delight in every sense. The performances were strong and varied and the writing was deep and true.

"Princess Mary Demands Your Attention" runs through February 12 at Victory Gardens, 2433 N Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-871-3000 or visit victorygardens.org.

Beth is a freelance writer living and working in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, TimeOut Chicago, Chicago Collection Magazine, Ducts.org, and many other places. She fears the suburbs and mayonnaise. You can read more about her work at http://www.bethdugan.com/


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