TIVERTON — Actress Liz Montigny wants people to see the Mother of Christ beyond the plaster statues that portray her.
“I’m trying to make the Holy Family relatable to everyone,” Montigny said. “You see these beautiful statues, and of course they’re the ideal people that you want to aspire to. But they had a hard life, and we can call on them for help.”
Montigny performed her original one-woman play “Our Mother’s Call,” in which Jesus’ mother Mary recalled the events of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, at Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton on May 4 to commemorate the month of Mary.
Entering through the church’s center aisle, Montigny began by beckoning an unseen guest to enter her home. “Come in! Sit down,” she said. “You must be hungry.” She then placed a folded cloth on the floor, unfolding it to reveal a pile of flatbread loaves. She then offered the traditional Jewish blessing over the food.
“I imagined that Mary took in a young girl off the street, who was begging for food or something,” Montigny said. “Somebody who’s 15, the age Mary was when she heard the Annunciation.” Mary’s motherhood of all humanity is present in her acting as mother to this young girl in need.
Montigny’s own experience as mother to sons ages 4, 6 and 8 informs her portrayal of Mary. “This would’ve been totally different if I’d been single with no children,” she said. “With just Jesus’ birth, they had nothing. The fear and joy at the same time really is kind of what every mother experiences when they’re having a baby.”
Throughout the performance, Mary’s head was bare, a departure from the traditionally veiled image. “She’s in her home,” Montigny noted. “I wanted her to be personable and very relatable. I wanted it to be intimate. You’re in her kitchen.”
The first Joyful Mystery mentioned is the fifth, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple from Luke 2:41-50. Telling her guest that she’s just returned from Jerusalem, Mary added that the trip was trying because “we lost our son.” Montigny delivers these words in the offhand way many parents use when relating a hair-raising incident involving their children, only after a little time and distance allows them to shake their heads and chuckle over it.
Montigny’s purpose to make Mary relatable was felt in her admission of disappointment in herself, so familiar to mothers: “I felt I failed him as a mother. I’m supposed to keep him safe.”
Montigny’s own creative thinking filled in some blanks in the Scripture account, such as Joseph having the idea to look for Jesus in the temple, Jesus’ spending those three days in Jerusalem comforting the sick, playing with other children and begging for food, and Mary’s remembering the dark prophecy that “a sword will pierce your heart” in Luke 2:35 as she was searching for her son.
The performance also incorporates ancient Christian traditions not found in the Gospels, relating Mary’s service in the temple as a little girl and the test the temple priests later devised to choose her husband, when lily flowers blossomed on Joseph’s staff alone among a number of other candidates.
Highlighting a Church doctrine not directly stated in the Gospels, Montigny’s Mary tells her visitor that she gave birth to Jesus without labor pains. Since pain in childbirth is among the consequences of Original Sin in Genesis 3:16 yet Mary was conceived without Original Sin, Church teaching holds that Mary did not experience this pain. Montigny delivers the words “I did not experience pain, as other women do” with a bewildered tone and expression, capturing this teaching of the Church as well as Mary’s great humility.
In relating the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, Montigny included Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55 – but not in a way we usually see in portrayals of Mary. Montigny approaches the Magnificat in a nearly rapid-fire delivery, speaking the words not in a rapture of holiness but with a sense of astonishment.
“Make my words your words,” Mary prays prior to the Magnificat. Therefore the words are God’s, not her own.
Ultimately, the Joyful Mysteries are all about trust in God’s provision in any and every circumstance.
“I don’t know God’s plans for me,” said Montigny’s Mary. “But I do know that if I trust in the Lord, all things will be possible.”
For more information on Montigny’s theatrical ministry and a schedule of performances, visit marianplay.com.