Afterwords Afterthoughts: Depicting the Divine

written by Isaac Gomez, Literary Manager

Dennis Zacek and Linda Reiter talk about their process in bringing to life The Testament of Mary

From left: Isaac Gomez (Literary Manager), Linda Reiter (Mary) and Dennis Zacek (Artistic Director Emeritus) as they talk about their process in bringing The Testament of Mary to life.

Throughout the last couple of weeks, our Public Programs events for The Testament of Mary have asked our patrons to investigate the image of Mary and how she alters based on who we are as people. To some, she is a Jewish mother grieving the loss of her son. To others, she is a reverential biblical icon – untouched by human hands.

Responses have varied and conversations have been heated, but one thing remains consistent: there are variations of ‘the truth’, and this play allows our patrons to investigate these differences as they experience this image of Mary as she is written by Colm Toibin, directed by Dennis Zacek and performed by Linda Reiter.  

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis and Linda following a performance of The Testament of Mary as part of our Public Programs event ‘Depicting the Divine’. In talking through their process of crafting the iconic biblical images portrayed on the stage, Dennis mentioned that Colm left much room for interpretation. “There is one stage direction in the piece,” Dennis said. “‘Mary produces a knife.’ The rest was left for us to figure out.”

I had the pleasure to witness Dennis and Linda’s collaboration in the weeks leading up to opening night. A unique pairing, the two bounced ideas off one another, and were unafraid to explore the varying ways to tackle the rich and profound text Colm left in his wake. “I wanted to create a ceremony, a sacred place, an altar,” Dennis commented. “To make it as pure as I possibly could.”

Their own experiences also influenced their take on Mary. For Linda, a born and raised Methodist, it was the image of Mary as a woman and mother that stuck out to her the most.  “I wonder why no one thought of this before now?” Linda asked. “We think of Mary just being a mother who did what she had to do but what I love about this piece is that she’s intelligent and witty. She’s human.”

For Dennis, born, raised and educated through a Catholic upbringing, it was the shift in perspective that drew him to the work. Brought up with the iconic image of Mary, he was excited by this play asking us to look at Mary through a very different light. “She’s funny,” he added. “And one of the ways people survive hardship is through humor.”

It is fairly obvious that while most theater companies throughout the city are in the midst of their Christmas Carol’s and holiday shows, Victory Gardens is presenting a Midwest premiere of a solo-performance piece that largely pulls from events observed throughout the Easter season. One patron asked Dennis, “We are in the midst of the Nativity, the birth of Christ. Why present this play at a time when Christians are celebrating his birth?”

And in his very coy manner, Dennis curled a smile, creased his mustache and said, “Well… perhaps this is a different kind of Christmas show.”

The Testament of Mary runs through December 14th. To buy tickets, please click here. To check out our Public Programs for the run of the show, please click here.