By David Nairne — From the first moments of Mary’s Medicine, currently running at the Complex Theatres during Hollywood Fringe 2017, playwright/director Matthew Robinson takes a risk by stating we are about to be told a story so compelling ‘you would give up your parking spot.’ This is Los Angeles. Then the play proceeds to deliver.
We start in present day, as nurse Kay, (Francesca Gámez), cares for her ailing flat mate Susan, (Alycia Lourim), through simple household remedies whose medicinal purposes, she insists, were made common to Western civilization by an influential, yet forgotten woman of nursing: one Mary Jane Seacole. Kay proceeds to entertain her sick friend by reading to her from Ms. Seacole’s autobiography. Here we get a sense of the need the author had to share this story. Because at first the sick friend ain’t having it. Through clever staging, the telling of the story occurs on an upper platform; while the key moments of Mary’s indomitable life open for us on the main stage.
A sense of necessity and tenacity pervades Mary’s Medicine as her life’s journey takes us from Jamaica, to Panama, to the front lines of the Crimean War and finally back to London. Mary’s uniqueness, the daughter of a Scottish Lieutenant in the British Army and a free Jamaican woman, prevents her from really belonging anywhere she goes. The Victorian World was not ready to embrace the desire to care for others and the determination to matter that ran through Mary like twisted steel.
Consider the conceit that this British Monarch could represent the entire world for an age. Continually Mary is confronted about her methods and morals but the concerns are only about the color of her skin.
Owning the role of Mary is Amy Argyle. Always sweet while never coming across as sly, Amy’s directness in her portrayal is spot-on. Supporting Mary with dead-on realism is Twon Pope as Mary’s brother. Robby Devillez fills duo roles—including a particularly fine turn as Horatio Seacole, Mary’s husband—with a very likeable gentility (He also served as a producer). Ross Shaw, again, filling duo roles, gets and delivers some of the funniest and poignant lines of the play. Standing icily against what Mary knows she can do and knows to be right is the legendary (in her own time!) figure of Florence Nightingale. Tasked with bringing the flaws of that icon into sharp relief while keeping the whole character believable is smoothly accomplished by Emilie Martz. Allesa Willis’ costumes transport.
As a biographic theatrical treatise, Mary’s Medicine is so informative, and well-executed by the ensemble, one hesitates to point out a flaw, however, what is missing is a sense of self-discovery or emotional growth within the role of the heroine. Mary is presented to us, from the start, as being fully-formed, without significant moments of doubt or the need for deep-digging into inner reserves. In that sense, she comes to us already perfect. Once she—eventually—is given her just due at play’s end, there is a slight-but present-sense of the anti-climactic.
Then again, perhaps what we are gifted with is what Mr. Robinson took away from having read the entire autobiography of Mary Seacole: a sense of never quite knowing where you belong, while being certain of who you are.
Mary’s Medicine demands to be shared and receives a GOLD MEDAL.
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Mary’s Medicine is Running During the Fringe 2017 at
The Complex Theatres
6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
06/17 @ 8:30 pm
06/24 @ 2:30 pm
For Tickets and Additional Information:
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