The Midwest Premiere

The Testament of Mary

by Colm Tóibín | directed by Dennis Zacek
November 14 – December 14, 2014

A 2013 Tony Award nominee for Best New Play, this incisive, intelligent and profoundly challenging work recounts in riveting detail Mary’s narrative of the last days in the life of her son, Jesus. Hailed as “beautiful and daring” by the New York Times, acclaimed author Colm Tóibín brings the world’s most famous mother to life in this fiercely lyrical solo play.

Production Sponsors

Virginia Fitzgerald
Carol Rosofsky and Bud Lifton

40th Anniversary
Season Sponsors

Diane and Steve Miller

“A difficult, sparse, austere, intense and most assuredly haunting piece… beautifully written.”
Chicago Tribune

“[A] fiercely real, intensely provocative, and (as some might label it) heretical one-woman play… [Mary] is fearless, and she lets rip.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“Brilliant story-telling.  Joining this character on her journey is a chance to see acting at its best, and if you regard the Bible as stories to be enjoyed, this production makes the most of them.”
Chicago Critic

“A stunning theatrical and dramatic experience… Linda Reiter’s perfectly judged portrayal of Mary is a searing rendering of a mother who saw her son slipping away from her on a path to his destruction that she was powerless to deflect.”
Chicagoland Theater Reviews

“This isn’t the statuesque Virgin Mary adorning a nook in a Cathedral.  This Mary is a human being in unimaginable agony… Reiter humanizes a legendary figure.  Her superb storytelling skills put us in the moment.”
The Fourth Walsh

“I came to this stage version of Colm Tóibín’s novella about Mary, the mother of Jesus, without having read the book and can only report that I was blown away by it”
The Guardian

“Having recently heard the Passion narrative…I have never experienced it as deeply as I did the other night in a theater that had become its own sacred space and liturgical venue.”
Huffington Post

“Tóibín’s writing is elegant, rhythmic and vivid”
LA Times

“In Colm Toibin’s harrowing theatrical monologue, the stoical grace traditionally attributed to this most beloved figure in religious iconography is stripped away by degrees, exposing the raw pain and anger of an unforgiving mother grieving the senseless loss of her son.”
The Hollywood Reporter

“Mary is becoming more modern, or rather, incorporating more modernity into her timelessness… Tóibín loves Mary too, even if his depiction of that love may seem unusual to those who prefer it painted in coral and turquoise.”

“beautifully wrought and emotionally devastating… piercingly felt production… soul-baring intensity… serious imaginative integrity.”
The Independent

Colm Tóibín on the Genesis of his ‘Testament of Mary’ -New York Times


After every performance of  The Testament of Mary (unless otherwise noted)

Join us for one of our intimate post show conversations. Lead by members from all around the Victory Gardens community–subscribers, Artistic staff, Teen Arts Council members, and community partners–after the show we sit together, reflect on what we’ve seen and share our response.


Special Afterwords | Tues, Nov 18, 2014

Although Christianity emerged from Judaic thought and living, the two religions have vastly different views on salvation and redemption. When they clash, sometimes resulting in devastating consequences, how can they heal? Following a performance of The Testament of Mary, join David Chack (Artistic Director of ShPIeL-Performing Identity and Professor in Jewish and Holocaust Theatre at DePaul University) and others as they examine the crossroads of these famous faiths.


Wed Nov 19, 2014 | 6:30pm cocktail get together at Victory Gardens | Special Afterwords

From Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” to Lady Gaga’s “Judas”, pop culture has long paid homage to Biblical icons. But with burning crosses and onstage exorcisms entering the cultural canon, how far is too far? Join us for a pre-show medley performance, then stick around for a special Afterwords discussion exploring the relationship between art, religion, and pop culture.


Thurs Nov 20, 2014 | 6:30pm cocktail get together at Victory Gardens | Special Afterwords

Legend has it that the Virgin Mary imprinted her image on a cloth in Mexico City in 1531. From Tanya Saracho’s play Our Lady of the Underpass to Victoria Franco’s painting of a contemporary reimagining of la virgen, how has Mary’s role evolved as a religious icon in Latino culture? Join us for pre-show cocktails, then stick around for a special Afterwords discussion hosted by Amor Montes de Oca of Arte Y Vida as we discuss la virgen’s role in Latino art.


Special Afterwords | Sat, Nov 22, 2014

“I cannot say his name. It will not come. Something will break in me if I say his name.” These words are spoken by Mary in Colm Tóibín’s novella, but they echo the grief of present-day mothers who have lost sons to unforeseeable tragedies. In the face of devastation, where do they find the strength to heal? Hear the story of Phyllis Duncan (founder/executive director of Mothers of Murdered Sons) and other courageous mothers in this crucial post-show discussion on resilience and hope.


Town Hall | Special Afterwords | Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
The Testament of Mary performance, 3:00pm | Blasphemy on Broadway, post-show

There were more pickets than tickets when The Testament of Mary premiered on Broadway in spring 2013. Hundreds of Catholic protesters cried sacrilege at Colm Tóibín’s solo play, in which Mary takes the stage and shares her side of the story. At the crossroads of art and religion, when does history become heresy? Who has the power to decide? Following a performance of The Testament of Mary, join us for this important Town Hall discussion on blasphemy and the arts.

Whole Foods



Special Afterwords | Fri, Nov 28th, 2014

Bringing religious figures to life onstage is a unique theatrical experience. In plays like The Testament of Mary, how can artists navigate this challenge? Join Dennis Zacek (Artistic Director Emeritus) and Linda Reiter (Mary) as they discuss the trials and triumphs of representing the most famous mother in history.


Pre-show performances | 7:00pm
Thurs Dec 4, 2014 | Tues Dec 9, 2014 | Sat Dec 13, 2014

From the creation of Eve to the reformation of Mary Magdalene, women in the Bible have a lot to say. Hear their stories brought to life by Chicago’s most dynamic spoken word artists at select pre-show performances of Testament of Mary.
No RSVP necessary for this pre-show performance


Special Afterwords | Fri Dec 5, 2014

All art comes with a price. Controversy, protests, and backlash inevitably await artists who dabble in the divine. How do they reconcile their creativity with cries of blasphemy? Join a panel of Chicago-based artists as they discuss the challenges and consequences of exploring religion in their own work.


Special Afterwords | Wed Dec 10, 2014

Mary is a major figure in the New Testament, but she features even more prominently in the Qur’an. With Islam honoring her as one of the most righteous women in history, what is her role in Muslim culture? In conversation with Ayad Akthar’s The Who and the What (to be presented at Victory Gardens late spring 2015), join us for this special Afterwords conversation exploring the role of the Virgin Mary in Islam.

Whole Foods



Special Afterwords | Thurs Dec 11, 2014

From a small grotto in Lourdes, France, to a stain on the underpass beneath the Kennedy Expressway, the apparitions of Mary range thousands of years across the globe. Are these apparitions a sign from God, or a figment of the imagination? Stick around for this special Afterwords panel discussion shedding light to the many faces of the blessed Virgin Mary.

denniszacek2Linda Reiter

This is Linda’s third show with Victory Gardens and she is thrilled to be back. She appeared previously in Flyovers with William Peterson (receiving a Joseph Jefferson nomination for actor in a supporting role) and Immoral Imperatives with Dennis Začek. Linda is an ensemble member of Shattered Globe Theatre where she has performed in 40 productions in their 22 years. She garnered Joseph Jefferson Awards in the non-equity category for the roles of Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Kate in All My Sons, Mme. De Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Dee Dee in Invitation to a March, and Sarah in Bondagers. And, she received nominations in the equity category for Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba, Esther in The Price, and Elsa in The Road to Mecca, all SGT productions. Some of her favorites outside SGT are Gillian in Marriage Play at the Goodman Theatre, “Albeefest”, Lottie in Lettice & Lovage at Court Theatre, Hannah in Arcadia at Remy Bumppo Theatre, and Lea de Lonval in Cheri at Live Bait Theatre. Linda appeared in an A&E episode of The Beast starring Patrick Swayze. Her voiceover credits include over 30 episodes of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, hosted by Stacy Keach,, and she played opposite Kelsey Grammer in The Manchurian Candidate radio drama produced by Chicago Theatres On-the-Air.

Linda would like to thank Dennis Začek and Chay Yew for this opportunity, and Brian and Shattered Globe for their love and support.

denniszacek2Dennis Začek is Artistic Director Emeritus of Victory Gardens Theater where he held the position of Artistic Director for 34 years. He recently accepted the Actor’s Equity Association’s (AEA) Spirit Recognition Award. The Spirit Award is given to institutions that “have made non-traditional casting a way of life.” He also received the 2005 Jeff Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chicago Equity Theatre. He, his wife Marcelle McVay, and the theater are co-recipients of the 2001 Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre. He is also the recipient of the 2004 Artistic Leadership Award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Začek and Ms. McVay received the 1999 Rosetta Lenoire Award from Actors’ Equity and the 1998 Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award from the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation. Currently, he holds the position of Resident Director at the Fringe Theater in Key West. Začek is a professor emeritus of Loyola University and was included in 2005 in Utne magazine’s first-ever list of “Artists Who Will Shake the World.” He has directed more than 250 productions in his career and is honored to be working with the intrepid Linda Reiter on Colm Toibin’s extraordinary play.
colmtoibinheadshotColm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He studied at University College Dublin and lived in Barcelona between 1975 and 1978. Out of his experience in Barcelona be produced two books, the novel The South (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction Award) and Homage to Barcelona, both published in 1990. When he returned to Ireland in 1978 he worked as a journalist for In Dublin, Hibernia and The Sunday Tribune, becoming features editor of In Dublin in 1981 and editor of Magill, Ireland’s current affairs magazine, in 1982. He left Magill in 1985 and travelled in Africa and South America. His journalism from the 1980s was collected in The Trial of the Generals (1990). His other work as a journalist and travel writer includes Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (1987) and The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (1994). His other novels are: The Heather Blazing (1992, winner of the Encore Award); The Story of the Night (1996, winner of the Ferro-Grumley Prize); The Blackwater Lightship (1999, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Prize and the Booker Prize and made into a film starring Angela Lansbury); The Master (2004, winner of the Dublin IMPAC Prize; the Prix du Meilleur Livre; the LA Times Novel of the Year; and shortlisted for the Booker Prize); Brooklyn (2009, winner of the Costa Novel of the Year). His short story collections are Mothers and Sons (2006, winner of the Edge Hill Prize) and The Empty Family (2010). His play Beauty in a Broken Place was performed at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin in 2004. His other books include: The Modern Library: the 200 Best Novels Since 1950 (with Carmen Callil); Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush (2002); Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar (2002) and All a Novelist Needs: Essays on Henry James (2010). He has edited The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Three books on his work have been published: Reading Colm Tóibín, edited by Paul Delaney (2008); Mother/Country: Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín by Kathleen Costello-Sullivan (2012); and Eibhear Walshe’s A Different Story: The Writings of Colm Tóibín (2013). He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster, University College Dublin and the University of East Anglia. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. Between 2006 and 2013 he was a member of the Arts Council in Ireland. He has twice been Stein Visiting Writer at Stanford University and also been a visiting writer at the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He also taught at Princeton between 2009 and 2011, and was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester in the autumn of 2011. He is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His second collection of stories The Empty Family, published in 2010, was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Prize. His collection of essays on Henry James, All a Novelist Needs, appeared also in 2010. In 2011 his play Testament, dirercted by Garry Hynes, was performed in the Dublin Theatre Festival with Marie Mullen in the lead role. Also in 2011, his memoir A Guest at the Feast was published by Penguin UK as a Kindle original.

In 2012 his new collection of essays New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers & Their Families appeared, as did his edition for Penguin Classics of De Profundis and Other Writings by Oscar Wilde. Also in 2012, his novel The Testament of Mary was published and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. In April 2013 The Testament of Mary opened on Broadway with Fiona Shaw, directed by Deborah Warner and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best New Play. The production transferred to the Barbican in London in May 2014. In July 2014 it opened in Barcelona in a Spanish production, with the actress Blanca Portillo. In 2013 it was released as an audio book with Meryl Streep.

Colm Tóibín’s eighth novel Nora Webster will be published in October 2014 and his On Elizabeth Bishop will appear from Princeton University Press in April 2015. Colm Tóibín is President of Listowel Writers Week and chair of Pen World Voices in New York.

Stage Manager: Tina M. Jach
Set & Projection Designer: Christopher Ash
Lighting Designer: Michael Rourke
Costume Designer: Sarah Jo White
Sound Designer: Andre Pluess
Props Master: Jesse Gaffney
Dramaturg: Isaac Gomez

Windows or Mirrors?

Thoughts About Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary
by Rev. Christopher Robinson, C.M. – DePaul University

Colm Tóibín is not a philosopher, a Christian theologian, or a historian of first century Judeo-Christian development. I am not a poet or a playwright.

Tóibín has presented us with a beautifully written poetic script brought into reality by the talent of an amazing actor, director, and theatrical crew. He has not offered us theology, philosophy, or history. This is a helpful reminder to anyone who might be angered or distressed by the subject of his writing.

My hope here is to share some thoughts, feelings, and images from my theological and philosophical imagination that were evoked by Tóibín’s artistic work. I am not writing to defend or deflect his art. I comment from the perspective of a Christian theologian and philosopher who offers courses in religion and popular media as well as someone who appreciates art.

The Testament of Mary is not revisionist history. Something else is going on here. There is a kind of conceptual frame being held up by the character of Mary throughout this production. The audience cannot avoid looking into the frame. Mary’s anguish, anger, humor, and contempt shatter historical preconceptions of Mary. Tóibín’s Mary is almost the Anti-Mary when compared to traditional or historical Christianity. She jolts the viewer to look into the frame she is holding up.

The conceptual frame might contain a window. I look through a window and see something outside. The conceptual frame might contain a mirror. I look into a mirror and see myself, my experiences, and my truth reflected in what the character Mary is holding up before me.

If Tóibín’s Mary is offering a window, perhaps we are invited to see beyond the stained-glass, to look beyond cold marble or plaster statues and beyond the exaggerated near-deification of Mary. Through Tóibín’s Mary we are forced to recall the unwed mother of a convicted prisoner, a mother who is deeply confused and frightened by her zealous Rabbi son. Maybe a mother who is resentful of a son who has exceeded herself and his origins. Tóibín’s Mary might be the immigrant mother who becomes alienated from the child who acculturates, learns the language of the new land, and is surrounded by a community she cannot possible understand. Tóibín’s Mary might be the mother of a liberated gay son who wears the wrong clothes and hangs out with the wrong crowd. She can be anything we need to show us a truth on the other side of the window she is holding up. Each of us, from whatever background, belief, non-belief, culture, gender, orientation, etc., is going to see something quite distinct.

If Tóibín’s Mary is holding up a mirror, things can be deeply challenging. For example, I am a Roman Catholic. I am deeply content with my tradition. I also recognize and understand its flaws and shadows. From this perspective, I look into the mirror and Mary symbolizes the Church itself. Many of her leaders and many of those who speak for her are self-interested. She, like the “real” church, is earthy, flawed, fearful, angry at times, loving at others. She is us, the people. The Church is not its leaders or those who claim to possess a monopoly on the truth. In the mirror Mary holds up, I see my own angers, resentments, and regrets.

The Testament of Mary is no more about the Virgin Mary of Christianity than John Patrick Shanley’s, Doubt, A Parable is about priestly pedophilia. Look closer, more deeply! It is either a window or mirror, depending on what you need it to be. Oddly enough, a line of James Cameron’s Titanic comes to mind when I try to summarize my experience of Mary:

“It’s like being in a dream. There is truth but no logic.”