An intoxicating slice of magical realism

Josh Seymour 9 February 2008

Two Marias, Corpus Playroom, 5-9 February, 21:30

4 Stars

Reviewer Josh Seymour

Bryony Lavery’s play burns with the scorching pain of grief and regret, and is here given an intense, engaging production by directors Alexandra Reza and Derica Shields. A strange, surreal play, set in a Spanish courtyard, it deals with Julia (Maria Onyango) and her daughter (Greer Dale-Foulkes), who receive a visitation from Marguerita, a grieving, near-mad woman (Amy Watson). This unsettling visitor unravels the disturbing tale of her daughter’s death, as the restless spirit of Maria, her daughter (Michal Ish-Horowicz) returns in an attempt to understand the mistakes of her mother.

The plot hinges around the bizarre circumstances of her death; a car collision with another girl named Maria, in which one Maria came out of the wreckage alive – only to be mistakenly identified as the other Maria. This is intertwined with the conflict between Julia and her daughter, as Julia reacts with violent hostility to her daughter’s declaration that she has fallen in love with a girl.

The cast rise to the challenge presented by this occasionally perplexing but frequently intoxicating slice of magical realism, with Watson’s performance unquestionably the highlight of the production. She brilliantly portrays a woman desiccated by loss and guilt; her haunted, and haunting, performance imbuing the piece with unexpected emotional potency. Onyango’s performance is somewhat mannered, but she still manages to effectively portray the internal struggle of a mother who finds her daughter’s choices to be reprehensible. Dale-Foulkes and Ish-Horowicz both do well with difficult roles which call for sudden shifts that, in less capable hands, would have rendered the play hard to follow. Spanish guitar-inflected musical accompaniment, provided by Matti Navellou, is well deployed to both evoke a cultural atmosphere and to underscore significant moments.

The production cannot solve the problems of the play – Lavery deals so cursorily with the lesbianism subplot that it feels cheap rather than organic – but the sensitive direction ensures that the tense atmosphere is never allowed to waver. Only in moments of traumatic mother/daughter newspaper articles being read out does the production slip into heavy-handedness, especially as they seem to exist only to allow Lavery a sudden jab, late in the play, at the way the press exploits personal tragedies.

Nevertheless, the thoughtful direction and passionate performances ensure that the audience’s attention never drifts, with an emotional scene between Ish-Horowicz and Watson near the end packing such emotional weight that several audience members could be heard crying. Like Marguerita’s lost daughter, this production, thanks to its intense exploration of bereavement and motherhood, is a haunting force that cannot be stopped from lingering in the mind.