REVIEW by Chuck Fager
Mary’s Joy is a fine match of actor and playwright. Jeanmarie Simpson performed it from the script for a capacity crowd at the University of Rhode Island in the summer of 2012. We were there at the Friends General Conference.
In the play, we meet Mary Dyer, the Quaker woman who has returned to Puritan Boston in June of 1660. She is there in defiance of an order from its rulers that if she comes back, as a damnable heretic, she faces the gallows.
In a searching interior monologue, on the morning when she is awaiting the hangman’s knock at her prison door, she examines her life, as woman, wife, mother, and a person of fiery faith, and how it has brought her here, to looking death in the face. She had done it before, looked into that face of doom, in different settings.
She came to New England as a Puritan reformer, eager for a more pure religious life, both individually and communally. Instead, she found repression.
Suffering and death came not only from church authority, but from the rage of natives who had been assaulted and massacred by the whites in their own land. When a close friend, Anne Hutchinson, and her family was massacred, Mary Dyer was very near driven mad with grief and horror. She returned to England, alone, to seek some kind of spiritual and inward relief.
Seeking. She soon found herself among Seekers. Becoming a Quaker, she feels a call to return to Boston, bloody persecuting Boston. When her ship lands in its harbor, she is seized and taken from ship to an enclosed dungeon. Her husband retrieves her, but at the cost of a pledge that she will not return.
It is a pledge she cannot keep. She lingers with her husband and children, savoring the time together. But still, she must return.
But the journey is not all about religious repression, or doctrinal disputes. Inwardly, Mary struggles to come to terms with the loss of one of her children, one stillborn and branded — not by her, but by them– as a monster, a sign of intercourse with Satan. Mary had named her Joy. And in the closing moments of that fateful morning, Mary must come to terms with that life, and death, not only for when it happened, but also for herself, and for that day, and forever.
Although Jeanmarie was not in costume, and there was no set, the others in the room and I sat transfixed, as if it was all there, unfolding right before us, bringing us with her. When she finished, the long standing ovation seemed a fully deserved, and yet wholly inadequate response.
Is “Mary’s Joy” coming to your Meeting, your community? You are graced.