It is rare these days to have a completely fulfilling experience at the theatre. Yet Urban Stage’s Marion Bridge comes as close as anything I’ve seen in a long time. This play is beautifully written, masterfully acted and seamlessly directed. Daniel MacIvor does not offer an entirely new story here but his beautifully rich and complex play about three sisters who return to the island of their birth to care for their dying mother manages to capture the humanity of such an experience with immense grace. It is sad yet heartwarming, emotional but above all it is fiercely human. The characters MacIvor offers are undeniably honest yet unapologetically flawed.
Finnerty Steeves shines brightest as Theresa the middle sister looking for some sense of peace in a world full of turmoil. She delicately balances the responsible, prim and proper exterior of a nun with the tenderness of a woman who loves working on a farm and being close to the earth. She eloquently conveys how it gives her life purpose and meaning, making her feel a part of all living things. Henny Russell is truly stellar in her portrayal of Agnes the eldest sister. At first, she plays a desperate woman being pulled down by her past unable to express her feelings of helplessness but the character transitions considerably in the second act as she begins to regain control and take responsibility for her future. Susan Louise O’Conner plays Louise the youngest and admittedly “strange” TV addict. Ms. O’Conner’s quirky Louise daydreams about driving on the open road and about the extreme pleasure it would bring her. She speaks so openly and with such childlike wonder that you can’t help but fall in love with her. Louise remains the one elusive character that you can’t quite figure out and yet O’Conner plays her so truthfully we get the feeling that she secretly likes it that way.
We see that each sister arrives home carrying emotional baggage and painful childhood memories. At first they bicker and fight like they did when they were children but when their mother finally dies, they find in each other a comfort and support that only family can provide. They come to realize despite their differences, they are family and they love each other. The more time they spend together, the more trusting of each other they become, finally opening up and sharing themselves completely, shortcomings and all. In doing so they are able to help each other gain perspective about their past and heal old wounds. By the end of the play they have repaired the previously severed bonds and are ready to embark on the next part of their journey together.
Susan Fenichell direction is simple and understated culminating with a moving scene in which the three sisters travel to their mother’s favorite spot, Marion Bridge to scatter the notes she had written them. The three face the audience and toss the colored scraps of paper into the air letting them gently rain down over the stage.
Marion Bridge brings to mind the old adage, you can never go home again…except this time you can…and in this play anyway, it’s nicer than you remember.
259 West 30th Street, between 7th and8th Avenues
Written by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Susan Fenichell
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