nytheatre.com review by Jeffrey Lewonczyk
In 1997, Susan McLaughlin Karp gave birth to a stillborn baby girl
named Mary. Still, which she wrote and performs, is her
attempt to come to grips with this tragedy, and, by all
appearances, she seems to be doing a remarkable job of it.
Despite the fact that with every performance she needs to relive
terrible events, the show is professional and well-polished.
August 15, 2002
Truth be told, it’s the dichotomy between the polish and the messy emotions that provide the show with its strange energy. Karp is an engaging performer, and when she veers off into digressions, such as a description of her jealous revulsion to a hipster wedding she attended while pregnant, she provides the audience with a number of satisfying guffaws. She takes pains not to directly address her sorrow—when Mary was born, she tells of how she wanted to act as if it was the happiest moment of her life, and this atmosphere of grit teetering into denial blankets the entire show. Still, the audience can’t help but to catch the sadness that blows in through the cracks of the amiable, well-rehearsed surface. The most difficult moments to watch are the birth and its immediate aftermath, which take place in a plastic, inflatable kiddy pool. Karp veers back and forth between playfully reenacting the birth process (which would have been quite funny in another circumstance) and reminding us that she knew the baby was already dead while it was happening. The result is a rueful kind of gut confusion, which is no doubt in accordance with Karp’s attempts to put a brave face on a grave situation.
In the end, it’s clear that Karp doesn’t want our pity, or even necessarily our sympathy. She is trying, instead, to make death appear more approachable, to keep it from gaining the upper hand. At times she succeeds admirably, while at others she makes the audience uncomfortable in ways she may or may not intend. But isn’t it natural to feel uncomfortable when a performer is telling us of the most intimate details of her body, her life, and the lost life of a child? The fact that she manages to do so without making us run for the exits or feel like leering rubberneckers is an accomplishment in itself.