Reviewed by David Spencer
Crazy Mary is A. R. Gurney's latest. And alas among his weakest. It concerns Lydia (Sigourney Weaver) an upstate WASP divorcee who, after a series of deaths in the family, has become the sole trustee of her cousin's considerable estate. That cousin is Mary (Kristine Nielsen), who has been in a sanitarium for wealthy loonies for 30 years. Lydia arrives at the sanitarium with her college age son Skip (Michael Esper) in tow, there to see if Mary's money is being spent wisely. For if not, she and Skip are struggling along and Lydia would not be shy about redirecting funds to where they would do more palpable good. But money per se is not the issue: Lydia's concern for Mary is genuine, but she is at a loss for how to assess the situation, For despite a well meaning therapist (Mitchell Greenberg) and a devoted nurse (Myra Lucretia Taylor), Mary seems to be perpetually in an almost catatonic state.
But something about Skip gets through to her and intrigues her. And Skip, heretofore not much interested in the Harvard education that has been foist upon him, in his own withdrawal from a world that (as he sees it) won't let him be his own man, has a symbiotic reaction. Before long, the two of them begin to blossom...but inevitably Skip is losing his sense of proportion, Mary begins to blur the line between being a family responsibility and a family burden, and Lydia finds the limits of her compassion tested.
It's not as interesting as it sounds, owing to the fact that Gurney has written the archetypes a bit too broadly for drama and not broadly enough for comedy—nor has he achieved the balance that allows a story to live "believably" between the extremes (e.g. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)—with the result that Crazy Mary suffers from the kind of tone confusion that never quite lets you forget you're watching actors in a play...somehow, despite very nice performances by all concerned and perfectly respectable direction by Jim Simpson, you only suspend disbelief for moments at a time—brief stretches in which the actors' conviction or concentration works a little magic—before the dialogue (and the slow trajectory toward the boilerplate ending too often applied to characters who can't go back to what they were, nor move forward as what they've become) reminds us that it's all a well-meaning contrivance.