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Welcome to Mary Page Marlowe

by Anna D. Shapiro

I have had the distinct honor of working alongside Tracy Letts for almost 25 years. In this time, I have directed him as an actor, interpreted his work as a playwright and, in the last decade, spent countless hours contemplating the state of both the American theater in general and Steppenwolf Theatre in particular. Without fail, every interaction with Tracy has served to enlighten, infuriate, inform and activate every aspect of my own work, forcing me to a kind of rigor and commitment that has, quite simply, made me better at not just what I do, but how I think about what we do. When I first read Mary Page Marlowe, Tracy’s haunting and elegant study of one woman’s life as seen through the characterizations of seven different actresses, I was again impressed by his ability to use his considerable skills as a storyteller to ask more not just of his medium, but of his audience and himself as he creates a world based not on the logic of time and sequence but of the illogic of emotion and randomness, and in so doing spectacularly capture the elusive truth of one very simple life. So often when one is working on a new play, the effort is in making sure the story holds together, that this new world you are creating makes sense or is constructed in such a way that the audience finds “likely” and therefore worthy. When I was younger, this process – the construction of a logical sequence, where A is followed by B and cause leads so directly to effect - served to order not just the worlds I was creating, but the world in which I lived. I loved a story with a solution – and I loved it even more if it was mine to find. But time passes, and life keeps coming, and as we try harder and harder to make sense of the trials and joys that befall us, we change, as do the stories we need and the stories we need to tell. What I love about Mary Page Marlowe is that it, and the person who imagined it, care not for order or sense anymore but are offering a story that shares a way that life can actually feel: like a stack of out-of-order photographs laying in a box through which you yourself sift. Each photo a moment as real and as true as it is over and forgotten, and yet it lives forever in its moment: unchangeable, locked away, alongside all the others and in the end, that randomness is the story of you. I’ve realized, living inside of this play for the last year, that this story has helped me understand that long ago wish to be the orchestrator of a world I could completely manage rather than a real person inside a life I couldn’t control. And that’s because the story of Mary Page Marlowe understands that we are both the change and the unchangeable. There is pain in the randomness of life, for sure, but there is also a wonder. Time and its fraternal twin inevitability will have its way with all of us and, in the end, will write the story of who we were. The way I understand this for myself ? I no longer see myself as a dam that needs to control the rushing tide but as a stone along the river. I understand that I am shaped not by the bed on which I lie but by the water rushing over me, sometimes in a great torrent that upends me, certainly, but more often in a dependable and unchanging constant, one that rounds out edges, shines and dulls and changes my color. And I receive the water, no drop ever washing over me twice, and I take the shape I have to, the shape I am meant to, and in the end, I am all the shapes I have ever been. And that will be and has always been enough. I am grateful to have shared this and all of our other journeys with Tracy. One of the joys of being a Steppenwolf ensemble member is the opportunity to move not just through playmaking together, but through life. What an odd, beautiful and impossible life it is. Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director