Join Our Mailing List
The Irish Examiner, October 5th 2011
FEW new one-woman plays bear the weight of expectation carried by Testament. Written by novelist Colm Tóibín, and directed by Druid stalwart Garry Hynes, it stars Marie Mullen as a character based on Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The work is set in the woman’s home in Ephesus. When her monologue begins, the ceiling rolls back to reveal the sky. As the work progresses, dark clouds pass above her, and the light in her living room waxes and wanes. Mullen is dressed entirely in black, with her long white hair hanging in a plait. The one concession to dramatic action is when she moves from one point to another in the room to deliver another section of her monologue.
The woman’s account of her son's life is more bitter than sweet. She hears accounts of him and his followers, of his speeches and miracles. She knows her son is in danger, but when she confronts him, he claims not to know her. In the traditional telling of the Crucifixion, Jesus cries out: "Father, why have you forsaken me?" In this version, it is the mother who, fearing for her own safety, abandons her son to his fate.
As one might expect, Tóibín's writing is vividly poetic and assured, and Mullen’s performance is masterful and mesmerising. It is true also that Tóibín sometimes surprises us, as when the woman declares her dislike of her son's disciples, and wonders at "the enormity of their ambition, the innocence of their belief"; or when, at the end, she cries out to the old pagan gods rather than the god of the Jews or the new religion founded by her son. But one must wonder what Tóibín was thinking, taking on so familiar a subject. If his intention was to question the Gospels' truth, a far more radical reimagining of the material was surely called for.