By Kendra Jones

Academy Award® nominee and Critics Choice Award winner Rachel McAdams, makes her Broadway debut, playing Mary Jane: an optimistic, warm, and relentlessness caregiver and mother. Her son with special needs, Alex, has outlived his life and ability expectations, and Mary Jane is committed to ensuring that he is a loved and a happy boy, tirelessly putting his care first. She’s a single mother and school teacher, but first and foremost Mary Jane is a caregiver.

Mary Jane, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Amy Herzog and directed by Anne Kauffman, gives the audience a brief insight into the responsibilities, the commitment, of doctors, mothers, home nurses. We see the optimism that oozes from them day and night, in the most emotional, traumatic, and unexpected incidents that could easily change the life of a woman; instead it’s just another obstacle in their involved, complex stories.

Despite Mary Jane having no friends, romantic partners, or family, so much of this play is spent in conversation. Mary Jane clings to these moments of socialization, and the topic the women always end up talking about is Alex: caring for Alex, mothering. So much of this dialogue takes place at a round table: the kitchen table in Mary Jane’s small one-bedroom apartment in Queens, the table in the “parent’s room” at a hospital. This is where Mary Jane socializes, talking with her building’s superintendent (Brenda Wehle), Alex’s home nurse, Sherry (April Matthis), Sherry’s niece (Lily Santiago), Alex’s doctor, a mother new to caring for a special needs child, a Hasidic mother accustomed to this lifestyle of care while being a part of a helpful community (both roles played by Susan Pourfar).

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Actors play two parts: one in each part of the production. It’s a play of women navigating each other, themselves, and their families. Rachel McAdams is wonderfully cast as this woman requiring an extremely high-level of positivity, joy, and curiosity. Unlike most mothers, she did not have the opportunity to bring home a newborn dressed in their curated first onesie, swaddled in a blanket they’ll carry for years, sporting a tiny pom pom hat. Mary Jane experienced the loss of a husband and normalcy within those first few days, months, of motherhood, but she never lost the hope raising a functioning and lively child. 

The absence of community clearly affects Mary Jane’s socializing and finding help for Alex, but she doesn’t allow this desperation to hinder her life, or her around-the-clock desire to be steps from Alex. So much of Mary Jane’s joy is emitted through the simplest moments of speaking about Alex–the way her face brightens and she smiles, her voice quickens, like she cannot say enough, like all of these memories and notes are rushing from her and she has to tell them all. She’s eager to tell strangers of his medical needs, in the way a mother would tell a funny story to her husband about their child’s afternoon spent playing at the park.

During one of Alex’s serious hospital surgeries, Mary Jane finally pauses, hesitates, after telling the on-call hospital chaplain–a Buddhist nun–about Alex. “I don’t know what to hope for anymore.”

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Although Alex cannot live without a human tending to his every unspoken need, Mary Jane separates him so distantly from being a sick boy. He is a toddler that watches Sesame Street and understands his mother’s questions. He is a stubborn almost-three-year-old. He takes medication through an IV drip. One of his vocal chords is paralyzed. But he loves fish and dogs. He likes seeing his breath in winter.

Mary Jane allows us to perceive how community affects motherhood. But ultimately, we witness the bond and inexorable lengths a mother will go to support and create happiness; her desperation to ensure the child comprehends her love.

Written by Amy Herzog; Directed by Anne Kauffman.

WITH: Rachel McAdams (Mary Jane), Brenda Wehle (Ruthie/Tenkei), April Matthis (Sherry/Dr. Toros), Susan Pourfar (Brianna/Chaya), Lily Santiago (Amelia/Kat).

CREATIVE TEAM: Lael Jellinek (Set Design), Brenda Abbandandolo (Costume Design), Ben Stanton (Lighting Design), Leah Gelpe (Sound Design), J. Jared Janas (Hair, Wig & Make-up Design), Caparelliotis Casting & Kelly Gillespie (Casting), Kate Wilson(Vocal Coach), and Narda E. Alcorn (Production Stage Manager).

Mary Jane is playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). Tickets can be purchased here.