After months of sitting through bad plays by acclaimed authors (Ayad Akhtar’s Junk, Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman), what a treat it is to discover Miles for Mary, running at Playwrights Horizons through the end of the month. Maybe it’s because there is no author, at least in the usual sense. Miles for Mary is the latest work from The Mad Ones, a downtown theater company whose members collaborate to create, develop and perform their works. Judging by this play (the first of theirs I’ve seen), they are pitch-perfect on all fronts.
Miles for Mary, takes place in the late ’80s, in the teachers’ lounge at Garrison High School, where a committee of teachers meets regularly over the course of the year to plan the school’s annual fundraising telethon. On its most obvious level, the play is a satire of office bureaucracy — those dreary staff meetings where procedure and protocol, combined with group-therapy psychobabble, make getting anything done (or communicating honestly) next to impossible. Even the smallest agenda items are fraught with interpersonal land mines, from picking a slogan for the year (“Do More”), to sitting through a training session on the school’s latest technological marvel — a six-line phone console, capable of hands-free dialing.
Miles for Mary reminded me a bit of Annie Baker’s work (The Flick, Circle Mirror Transformation), in its leisurely pace and its sharp ear for both the humor and the quiet desperation lurking inside the most boring human interactions. The play is beautifully crafted and refreshingly understated. There are no forced laugh lines (though the play is very funny), no explosive revelations (though it has a dramatic arc and a satisfying climax), no attempt to flesh out a backstory for each of the characters— yet all of them are fully imagined individuals, totally believable in the moment. For my money, it’s the best play of the season so far, by far.