The Insanity of Mary Girard

The Insanity of Mary Girard

The Insanity of Mary Girard
By Lanie Robertson
Directed by Seth Lindsey
Starring Vicki Burns
Breakthrough Theater, Winter Park, Fl

Say what you will about Obama Care, medicine was much more brutal in post revolutionary Philadelphia. A diagnosis of insanity only required a husband’s say-so, and institutionalization was the only real option beyond bloodletting, cold baths, and public exhibition. Mary Girard (Burns) showed up at the doctor’s office expecting a check up and instead found herself in the loony bin and immediately taunted by four Furies. Her symptoms? Inability to birth a child by her husband, impregnation by another man, and fading beauty that her husband (Scott Mills) no longer preferred. He liked serving girls, young ones best of all, and in her hallucinations the next “housekeeper” (Katy Polimeno) explains how to keep a man in 1799. The advice isn’t all bad, just gratingly sexist by today’s feelings. Back then a woman was in it for the social status and nice furniture, not for any sort of emotional fulfillment.

As descents into insanity go, this one was typically brutal and strident. The furies (Jennifer Bennett, Mackenzie Filson, Eliza Stevens, Rachel West) screeched and flew, finishing each other’s sentences as they hectored Mary and buffeted the audience. Mary’s descent was well played; she clung to a strand of denial until the last. Her imagined mother Mrs. Lum (Karen Edward-Hill) was stern, disapproving and gray, and the closest thing Mary had to an ally was the warder Mr. Phillips (Jim Cundiff). Convinced she was sane and just suffering from a passing case of the Vapors, he was the one truly evil man in the show, but it’s Mary that suffers for his sin. It’s a night in the nut house, creepy and claustrophobic but a nice peek into a place you will hopefully never see in this life.

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