I can’t say I recommend Dead Shot Mary, Robert K. Benson’s monodrama about policewoman Mary Shanley, gun-totin’ heroine of the Depression-era NYPD. Mary drags terribly, even given its scant hour-long running time, and the text flails like a tackled pickpocket. But Rachel McPhee’s brassy performance has a quality of uninhibited glee that gladdens an otherwise difficult experience.
Benson’s script alternates between career details (the real stuff) and maudlin introspection (the made-up details). It’s in his portrait of a gloomy, tears-behind-the-laughter Mary that Benson does his worst work. Designer Kyu Shin includes newspaper blowups of Mary’s steel-jawed, flint-eyed mug on his tiny set — Shanley was always posing for the tabloids, pistol drawn — and these give no hint that the policewoman was really a lovelorn marshmallow inside. The real Shanley got temporarily demoted for shooting into a bar’s ceiling; she never married. But Benson imagines great wells of loneliness, the specific sort of sadness that entails rhapsodizing lustfully about Billie Holiday.
If the fiction were a sustained effort, we might follow Benson’s invention, but his dramatic structure hopscotches across years and locations without much transition. This leaves director Stephen Kaliski with few options. Happily, McPhee’s enthusiasm carries her through the play’s unfortunate requirements: the miming, the chats with an invisible dog (“Jiggsy, we need a drink!”), and — hobgoblin of the one-person show — the pensive conversations with the mirror. The role was written for McPhee (she and Benson are married), and it’s a delight to see her dig deep. So, while our own pleasure may be minimal, there is some vicarious excitement: It’s always nice to see someone else unwrapping a gift.
Dead Shot Mary
Directed by Stephen Kaliski
The Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street 212-868-4444, rachelmcphee.com/dsm
Through October 15
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 29, 2016