Vineyard Theatre, New York
(Through March 25)
Supposedly, a young Alfred Hitchcock saw a London-based production of J.M. Barrie's "Mary Rose" and hoped to direct a screen version. His dream never came to fruition. But if it had, the film likely would have made Hitch's bombs -- "Torn Curtain" or "Stage Fright" anyone? -- seem like classics.
Although the author of "Peter Pan" penned "Mary Rose" toward the end of his career, that is no excuse for its desultory dialogue and the arbitrary shifts among drawing-room comedy, ghost story and gothic romance. As none of the genres is presented with any hint of gusto, the result is, at best, a curiosity.
As the story begins, an aged narrator sets the tale in a decaying English manor house just after World War I, where a cantankerous servant is showing a handsome soldier the drawing room. She assumes that he is a potential buyer for the estate, but the mysterious young man has memories of the home, even knowing about a hidden room that remains locked. No sooner has night fallen than the door opens and a figure emerges toward the soldier.
Suddenly, the scene shifts back 30-odd years, when the structure served as the dwelling place of a middle-class couple and their 18-year-old daughter, Mary Rose. When the title character tells her parents of the man she wants to marry, they appear distraught. And for good reason. The pair must decide whether to reveal Mary Rose's carefully guarded past, one that involves a long-ago incident on a remote Scottish island.
The parents' decision sets off a cumbersome chain of events that -- two hours later -- will lead back to an encounter between the soldier and a specter. Unfortunately, that encounter is as lackluster, drawn out and predictable as virtually everything that precedes it.
Although incorporating many of the themes from "Peter Pan" -- the notion of agelessness, an enchanted locale, legends coming to life -- Barrie herein makes them a surefire cure for hardcore insomniacs. The pacing is positively glacial.
Worse, director Tina Landau does virtually nothing to ease Barrie's awkward transitions from alleged comedy to supposed drama. It appears that her major input was the addition of the omnipresent narrator, though the character serves less purpose than the furniture. Speaking of which, James Schuette has come up with a particularly weak centerpiece for his set, calling on the audience to accept it as both living quarters and island playground. It's a miss on both counts.
Unfortunately, the cast proves equally lacking. As the narrator, stage and screen veteran Keir Dullea has virtually nothing to do but wander about and speak in a vaguely ominous tone. The only other "name" in the cast seemingly owes more to nepotism than talent. Paige Howard, daughter of Ron and sister of Bryce Dallas, doesn't embarrass herself as Mary Rose, but neither does she imbue her line readings with the emotion or poignance that might have made a difference.
According to the show's publicity, this production marks the first time "Mary Rose" has been revived in New York in 50 years. After seeing it, however, one can't help thinking that it should have stayed in mothballs for another century.
Presented by Vineyard Theatre
Playwright: J.M. Barrie
Director: Tina Landau
Set designer: James Schuette
Costume designer: Michael Krass
Lighting designer: Kevin Adams
Sound designer/original music: Obadiah Eaves
Mary Rose: Paige Howard
Narrator: Keir Dullea
Mr. Morland: Michael Countryman
Mrs. Morland: Betsy Aidem
Simon: Darren Goldstein
Harry: Richard Short
Mr. Cameron: Ian Brennan
Mr. Amy: Tom Riis Farrell
Mrs. Otery: Susan Blommaert