Review: Season opens at Barrington Stage

Mark St. Germain, who previously has had eight of his plays produced by Barrington Stage Company, is back at the Pittsfield theater with “Typhoid Mary,” a revision of what was called “Forgiving Typhoid Mary” for its New York City-area premiere in 1991 and later had the title “A Plague of Angels.” The latest title is the most apt: It better reflects the play’s neutral stance as it explores the life and mystifying behavior of Mary Mallon, an Irish-born cook who, as a carrier of the eponymous bacterial illness, sickened scores of people, some of whom died, in the first 15 years of the 20th century in metropolitan New York.

When the play opens, Mary is confined to a cottage on an East River island near the Bronx that is home to a hospital for those with infectious diseases. It’s 1909, almost a decade after Mary first sickened a family, but it took authorities years to locate and isolate her. Now she’s suing to be released as three people — a middle-aged male hospital administrator, a young female doctor and a young Catholic priest — battle for her future and her soul.

Seen from today’s perspective, Mary’s actions seem appallingly irresponsible and probably criminal; even if she doesn’t understand what was then, 30 years after Louis Pasteur’s pioneering work with vaccines, commonly accepted in the scientific and medical communities, she has to acknowledge the illness and death in her wake. But she refuses, much like some parents of today’s America, who threaten the health and lives of whole communities with their unwillingness to have their children vaccinated…St. Germain’s taut, compelling dialogue and distinctively hewn characters satisfy theatrically and intellectually.

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