by Margret Echeverria

Mary Lou Quinlan is not a classically trained theatre actress.  However, she is an excellent performer/storyteller.  The God Box had only a two night run at The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture this week.  It’s not so much a play, but rather the writer of the book – a New York Times best seller – on stage telling you the story.  We are very grateful that Quinlan is an excellent public speaker; she lives in the moment even though she has told this story many times before, so we feel as if we are the first to hear her talk about her unusual mother.  Nothing is forced in her voice nor use of her body on the stage.  Director Martha Wollner and Quinlan have collaborated with a little bit of visual and sound tech (Chris Kateff and Elizabeth Rhodes, respectively) to produce a beautiful telling of a life lived with mindful enthusiasm.

The advertising for this show tells us that it will make us want to call our moms.  Hmmm.  I’m not sure about that.  I’ll bet your mother is not much like Quinlan’s mother.  I have two moms and still they have very different personalities from that of Mary Boales Finlayson who was in love with her husband, Ray, all her married life and proudly mothered Quinlan and her brother, Jack ,with some interesting disciplines.  For example, no one was to be admittedly sick.  Ever.  Quinlan had a perfect attendance record at Catholic school by never admitting when she was under the weather and therefore convincing everyone around her that she was always well.  Presumably, the men in the family adhered to this practice as well convinced that someone asking, “How are you?” when you confess illness is the kiss of death.

Growing up in the Midwest, many members of my family were extremely hesitant to expose themselves as passionate about anything.  The remarkable Mary Finlayson was passionate about being a good person and praying for good things to happen to everyone around her. She lived this passion out loud.  She asked interested questions of her maid, her regular waitress, her family members — everyone she met.  She wrote her wishes and prayers down on small scraps of paper beginning with Dear – insert saint or God name hereinsert wish or prayer here – Love, Mary and she would place them in a box.  She did this for decades.  But there was a catch; putting what was so often a genuine worry in the box meant that she had to let it go.  If she was putting it in the box on the behalf of someone else, she would only do it if that person promised to not worry any more.  It seems she never broke this rule.  That is some passionate faith.  That is some extraordinary strength.

I enjoyed hearing this story.  The audience is invited as a friend into Mary Lou Quinlan’s garden, her living room and eventually into more private and intimate spaces as her parents age and denial of illness become impossible to endure.  Her story telling skills are engaging.

Mary Lou Quinlan in God Box

Mary Lou Quinlan in God Box

Anyone will be completely enrolled as familiar events in the timeline of of an American family are told to us in a way that makes us sentimental for this woman and her husband whom we will never meet.  Quinlan inherits her mother’s strength with some unexpected results and gets roughly bumped up against some hard lessons.  This endears Quinlan to us as well.

THE GOD BOX: A DAUGHTER’S STORY written by Mary Lou Quinlan and Martha Wollner, directed by Martha Wollner

WITH Mary Lou Quinlin as herself

Elizabeth Rhodes, sound;  Chris Kateff, visual design.

Through May 8, The Sheen Center, 18 Bleeker Street 7pm.  Tickets here.  This show has been touring the world since 2013 and shows no sign of stopping.  News of where you can see it next can be found here.  I say, do that.