By Beatrice Williams-Rude
Attention Acting Aficionados: Hie yourselves to The Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios to see Dead Shot Mary. Rachel McPhee’s bravura performance as Mary is not to be missed.
Mary was the first NYPD female detective. In the course of a 30-year career she made 1,000 arrests. She was honored by Mayor LaGuardia and was accorded 11 mentions in The New York Times.
She joined the force in 1931 and was dubbed “Dead Shot Mary” by the press. We learn that in her very first use of a pistol, seven out of nine shots hit the target.
With the precision of a neurosurgeon Rachel McPhee strips layer after layer to reveal the inner Mary. Mary Shanley, a devout and fearful Catholic girl who, even as she rises in the police hierarchy becoming one of only four women to become Detective First Grade, feels she’ll be harshly judged by God for not fulfilling her duty as a woman to bear children.
She resents always being identified first as a woman, “Why can’t they just say ‘cop’?” and sometimes wishes she’d been born male.
This solo work is rich with earthy humor although we come to know that Mary is hurting inside. There’s a wonderful sequence about her dog, Jiggs, her best and perhaps only friend.
There’s a charming anecdote involving Grace Kelly. Mary saw her trying to shop and being so besieged by fans she could scarcely move. Mary cleared the way for her accompanying her from store to store and until they finally reached the “fancy apartment building” where Grace was staying. Mary noted, “She tried to tip me but I wouldn’t take it. We parted ways with the most beautiful smile you ever did see.”
Looking at photos of the real Mary Shanley one is struck by the resemblance to Rachel McPhee’s stage creation.
The innovative play was written by Robert K. Benson; the skillful director is Stephen Kaliski.
The attractive and functional set was designed by Kyu Shin. Prominent is the police uniform Mary cherished, having admired and respected policemen all her life. However she had little opportunity to wear it because mostly she was undercover.
Although Mary sees herself as “just different,” she muses about “Dead Shot Mary,” and Mary Shanley: where does one begin and the other end? She ruminates about who she really is.
There’s no explanation as to why she doesn’t connect with other people. We know she had brothers. Why are they no longer a family? Why isn’t Mary close to at least a few of her fellow officers, male or female?
A longer work would permit more examination of specifics that illustrate the why of our sense of Mary’s aloneness.
Dead Shot Mary is playing at The Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios, 244 West Fifth-Fourth Street, between Eighth Ave. and Broadway. In previews now, its official opening is Sept.15 and it will run through Oct. 15. It lasts roughly and hour with no intermission.