By Carlo D’Amore; Directed by Collin Blackard
Produced by Live in Theater
Off Broadway, Immersive Theatre
Future Performances to be Announced
Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton Street
by Asya Danilova on 3.29.18
Alena Acker in The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915. Photo by Natalia Yandyganova
BOTTOM LINE: An immersive show where the audience gets to decide the destiny of the deadly cook.
Mary Mallon, better known by her media nickname Typhoid Mary, was the infamous first “healthy carrier” of typhoid fever. Around the turn of the century Mary was a cook for rich New York households, and in many of them, an outbreak of typhoid fever started shortly after her arrival. Branded by the media as “The most dangerous woman in America,” this Irish Immigrant was blamed for 51 cases of typhoid, three of them deadly, until she was forcibly quarantined. After three years spent in isolation she was released on the condition that she would never cook again. But within a few years Mary broke her promise and was discovered working under an assumed name at Sloane Hospital for Women after yet another outbreak.
This is where we, the guests of a Sloane Hospital benefit, find Mary Mallon. The year is 1915. In reality, that year she was quarantined again, and for the rest of her life. The outcome might have been different if she wasn’t a poor, uneducated immigrant woman from Ireland. Live in Theater’s interactive production gives the woman a second chance, a trial that she never received.
From the start, the improvised court hearing seems not to favor Mary Mallon. A Health Commissioner (JR McCarthy) assumes the role of the judge, despite the obvious conflict of interest. Prosecutor Prescot Sinclair (Thomas Burns Scully) is one of Mary’s former employers. The slimy defense lawyer Francis O'Neill (Tom Staggs) claims to be a protector of freedom and equality for all, but mostly he's looking for fame, which he gets regardless of the outcome.
After a short briefing on Mary’s background, it is up to the audience to investigate in order to make the most informed decision regarding her future. Armed with notepads and drinks, we scatter around Arlene’s Grocery on a mission to interview the people associated with the case. In addition to the characters mentioned above, we also have a chance to talk to the passionate scientist George S. Soper (Joel Austin), a typhoid expert who tracked Mary. There is also Desi Warren (Nicole Orabona), a survivor of typhoid and Mary’s strongest defender.
Another healthy carrier, Tony Labella (Tonino D'Amore), is an interesting component to Mary’s story, as he was never quarantined, despite being a baker. Having him as a character in her trial seems odd since he has no personal connection to the woman; if he were left out, the show wouldn’t lose anything. This might have left room for far more interesting characters that are tied to Mary, like physician Sara Josephine Baker, who evaluated Mary, or some of the journalists who inflated the “Typhoid Mary” myth.
The atmosphere of the shabby bar, with a drum set on stage and a refrigerator humming from time to time, might be a little distracting at first. But once you are interviewing the characters, it is easy to fall under the theatrical spell. Live in Theater are masters at harnessing the collaborative energy between audience and actors. The gummy candies offered upon entering become Peach Melbas, and a huge sign reading “20 years of rock and roll” above the stage nearly “disappears.” And every cast member remains in the moment, even when distractions occur. When somebody’s phone rang during the trial, Phoebe Dunn (Mary) nervously asked—without skipping a beat—if there was a fire, with the excitement of an escape possibility.
After the prosecutor and defense attorney each assemble a team of four, the trial begins. Much like the process of interviewing potential litigators, the trial is a well-balanced combination of farce and pressing political matters. You might be asked, while on stage, about your views on immigration, and then, cued by a prompter, happily yell “poop” with the rest of the audience every time a witness says “stool samples." In this way, The Trial of Typhoid Mary manages to be both your post-brunch (while buzzed) entertainment and a historical drama that is still somewhat relevant today.
(The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915 plays at Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton Street. Running time is 2 hours, no intermission. Tickets are $59. Performances are Saturdays at 2. Live in Theater rotates through several productions; additional performances of The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915 will be announced. Visit liveintheater.com or call 347-422-7562 for tickets and more information about The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915, its other shows, and booking a private event.)
The Trial of Typhoid Mary 1915 is by Carlo D’Amore. Directed by Collin Blackard. Stage Manager is Aina Raposa.
The cast is Phoebe Dunn, Joel Austin, JR McCarthy, Tom Staggs, Thomas Burns Scully, Tonino D'Amore, and Nicole Orabona.