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The Testament of Mary is a play written by Colm Tóibín, based on his 2012 novella of the same name and 2011 play Testament. The play is a solo performance depicting "the mother of Jesus [who] tells her story of her son’s Crucifixion" and questions his death and divinity.[1] After a 2011 Irish production, the play ran briefly on Broadway in 2013, closing after only two weeks of a scheduled 12-week run, but it was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Play.



Tóibín wrote in The New York Times that he began writing the play because he felt "almost a vacuum of faith in Ireland" in late 2008. He said "the impulse to write the play was not political, was not to intervene in a debate about the church, but rather to work with a voice that had mattered to me personally, a voice that was iconic as well as human." Further, he noted that he had "seen great performances in the Irish theater", which meant that "In their performances the act of utterance itself took on a sort of soaring nervous power."[2]

After the initial reading at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2011 of an earlier version of the play and the writing of the novella, Tóibin "rewrote the original play, with the images starker, the voice even more urgent and filled with human pain."[2]

Production historyEdit

The Testament of Mary was initially performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival, under the title Testament in October 2011, and was in the form of a monologue.[3] The production was directed by Garry Hynes and starred Marie Mullen.[4] The novella was written after this production.[1]

The play opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre in a limited run on April 22, 2013 after 27 previews; it closed on May 5, 2013, only two weeks into its scheduled 12-week run.[1] Fiona Shaw starred as Mary. The play was directed by Deborah Warner, with sets by Tom Pye, costumes by Ann Roth, lighting by Jennifer Tipton and original music and sound design by Mel Mercier.[5]

In the fall of 2015, a new version of the play with five women sharing the role of Mary was presented privately to members of the theatrical community. This reinterpretation was adapted and directed by Michael Rader and the cast included Lynn Cohen, Adriane Lenox, Jill Paice, Elizabeth Kemp and Thursday Farrar.[6]

In early 2017, the Sydney Theatre Company mounted the Australian premiere of the play at the Wharf Theatre, with Alison Whyte playing the role of Mary.[7] In November that same year, another production of the play was staged for a limited run at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne, starring acting veteran Pamela Rabe and directed by Anne-Louise Sarks.[8]


In response to a question whether the fact that the play "could stir up a lot of controversy [that might] intimidate or excite you", Tóibín replied "The text, what I wrote and what they're doing, is very serious. It's not as though we're attempting to get involved with the mockery of icons. It's almost that we're recreating or exploring an icon, rather than reducing the iconic. So I would imagine people will respect that. I am serious."[9]

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protested at the first preview of the play and again at its opening, asserting that the depiction of Mary in the play is blasphemous.[10] The producers issued a statement, which read, in part: "The Testament of Mary explores, in a very serious way, something that matters deeply to all of us. It is neither anti-Mary nor anti-Christianity, but rather a portrait of a very human woman – a mother – who is trying to make sense of and come to terms with the tragic death of her son.... let the work speak for itself."[10]

Critical responseEdit

In reviewing the Dublin 2011 performance, a reviewer for The Guardian wrote: "With its poetic diction, historical allusion and philosophical range, this demanding script at times seems more suited to aural narration than theatrical performance. Director Garry Hynes keeps the staging to an austere minimum: in a barely furnished room, the shifting light and overhead projection of cloud formations are the only accompaniments to Marie Mullen's occasionally tentative delivery. And yet, it seems fitting to sit in a communal space and remember all the other congregations down the centuries who have worshipped a mother, who, in this interpretation, is herself in need of the succour of a female deity: the virgin goddess, Artemis."[3]

Reviews on Broadway were mixed. In The New York Times, Ben Brantley praised "the writing and performance but expressing dismay about the fussy embellishments of Warner’s production."[11] On the other hand, a review in Backstage commented, "the stage is littered with a mix of properly historical and more-contemporary items, and Mary is seen smoking what appear to be joints of marijuana and swigging from a commercially labeled liquor bottle. None of these things are in the printed script, and they begin to feel so calculated and intellectualized that an airlessness pervades the proceedings."[12]

Fintan O’Toole wrote in The Irish Times, "by Broadway’s logic The Testament of Mary 'got the "wrong" nominations'. If Fiona Shaw had received a nod from the Tony, for instance, the show might have been saved; but not enough out-of-towners will book a ticket on the basis of superlative designs."[11] The Irish Theatre Magazine concluded: "For many, though, this will have been one of the better plays to reach Broadway that was never seen."[11]

Awards and nominationsEdit

The Testament of Mary received three nominations for Tony Awards in the categories of Best Play, Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design.[13] Mel Mercier won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Sound Design.[14]

The play also received two Drama League Award nominations but did not win either.[15] The production received two Outer Critics Circle Award nominations but did not win.[16]

Original Broadway productionEdit

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2013 Drama League Award Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play Nominated
Distinguished Performance Award Fiona Shaw Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding New Broadway Play Nominated
Outstanding Solo Performance Fiona Shaw Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Sound Design of a Play Mel Mercier Won
Tony Award Best Play Nominated
Best Lighting Design of a Play Jennifer Tipton Nominated
Best Sound Design of a Play Mel Mercier Nominated
United Solo Special Award For outstanding achievements in popularizing the form of solo performance Fiona Shaw Won


  1. ^ a b c Hetrick, Adam. "Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary, Starring Fiona Shaw as Biblical Icon, Closes on Broadway May 5",, May 5, 2013
  2. ^ a b Toibin, Colm. "Our Lady of the Fragile Humanity" The New York Times, April 4, 2013
  3. ^ a b Meany, Helen. " 'Testament' Review. Project Dublin", The Guardian, 5 October 2011
  4. ^ " 'Testament' ",, accessed May 12, 2013
  5. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Fiona Shaw Stars in 'The Testament of Mary', Beginning March 26 on Broadway" Archived 2013-05-07 at the Wayback Machine,, March 26, 2013
  6. ^ "Reading of New Version of Controversial Broadway Drama Testament of Mary, With Adriane Lenox, Presented Today". Playbill. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Gordon, David. "The Testament of Fiona Shaw and Colm Toibin", TheatreMania, March 14, 2013
  10. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam. "Catholic Protesters Return for Broadway Opening of 'The Testament of Mary' ",, April 23, 2013
  11. ^ a b c Crawley, Peter. "Making no assumptions: Colm Tóibín’s 'Testament of Mary' closes on Broadway despite Tony nominations", Irishtheatremagazine, May 2013
  12. ^ Haagensen, Erik. "The Testament of Mary Would Achieve More with Less", Backstage, April 22, 2013
  13. ^ Purcell, Carey (2013-06-09). "Kinky Boots, Vanya and Sonia, Pippin and Virginia Woolf? Are Big Winners at 67th Annual Tony Awards". Playbill. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  14. ^ Hetrick, Adam & Gans, Andrew (May 19, 2013). "Billy Porter, Andrea Martin, Pippin, Matilda, Vanya and Sonia Win Drama Desk Awards". Playbill. Archived from the original on June 5, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  15. ^ Gans, Andrew. " 'Kinky Boots', 'Pippin', 'Vanya and Sonia', 'Virginia 'Woolf? and More Win Drama League Awards" Archived 2013-06-15 at, May 17, 2013
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew (May 13, 2013). "Pippin Is Big Winner of 2012-13 Outer Critics Circle Awards". Playbill. Retrieved September 29, 2018.

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