The proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” takes on added meaning for those rearing a child with special needs or chronic illnesses.
The usual “village” of family and friends grows exponentially as caregivers and support services enter the mix. It’s a world with which playwright Amy Herzog is very familiar. Mary Jane is her tale of a single mother trying to get by in that world and the village that surrounds her. Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre has a production running through Sept. 16.
Mary Jane (Caitlin Strom-Martin) is the mother of Alex, a two-year-old boy born prematurely with cerebral palsy and a host of other medical issues. They live in a cramped New York apartment where Alex receives 24/7 care. Alex is never seen, but his presence is always felt via the ever-present beeping of his heart monitor.
In the first act, we meet Ruthie (Mary DeLorenzo), the building superintendent who looks the other way at some modifications to the child-proofing of the apartment. Sherry (Mercedes Murphy) is an attentive home health care nurse for whom the phrase “angel of mercy” would seem to have been written. Brianne (Sarah Dunnavant) is a new mother of a child with special needs in search of guidance, from what stroller to buy to how to navigate the bureaucracies with which she’ll now have to deal. Sherry brings her niece, Amelia (Lexus Fletcher), to visit when Alex’s health takes a turn for the worse.
The second act takes place in a New York hospital where Mary Jane’s village expands to include Alex’s doctor (Murphy), a music therapist (Fletcher), another parent (Dunnavant) and a Buddhist hospital chaplain (DeLorenzo).
As someone who has worked for decades with students with special needs and their parents, I can attest to the truthfulness of Herzog’s script and the brilliance of Strom-Martin’s performance. She captures everything I’ve ever seen in a parent of a child with special needs, from the fierceness of their advocacy to their struggles with and occasional obliviousness to the reality of their situations.
Herzog offsets the script’s heaviness with moments of humor, and director Beulah Vega and her cast handle both well. (Full disclosure: Vega writes theater reviews for the Bohemian.) It is a perfect combination of an eloquent script with clear, purposeful direction and an excellent ensemble of actors.
Mary Jane is more than an exploration of motherhood. Issues of self-sacrifice, guilt, faith and our often-impersonal health care system also come into play. It’s not an easy watch, but well worth the effort.
Left Edge Theatre’s ‘Mary Jane’ runs through Sept. 16 at The California Theatre. 528 7th St., Santa Rosa. Thu-Fri, 7:30pm; Sat., 1pm. $20–$29. 707.664.7529. leftedgetheatre.com.