THE major difficulty for Mary Lou Quinlan in telling such an intensely personal tale as The God Box, inspired by the death of her mother, was not the undoubted emotion involved, but rather that the central character in the one woman play is her and she must portray the events as if for the first time, every time.
A vastly experienced business woman, columnist and television personality in the US, Mary Lou was inspired to write about the 2006 death of her mother by stroke first in an article, then New York Times best selling memoir, then the stage.
The play has now toured to a dozen US cities and had an extended stint at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and will come to the Lime Tree this month as a warm-up to a multi-city Irish tour in 2016.
It tells of Mary Lou’s discovery of ‘god boxes’ - small containers stuffed with tiny notes sharing her mother’s innermost thoughts, scribbled on the run and expressing concerns, hopes and dreams. She says the discovery of the notes is “very much the cornerstone of the play”, one that she freely admits has been a “roller coaster of emotions”.
“I don’t believe, that she was writing it as this is what I will leave behind, but it was so much a map of her heart and being so close to her, I could just feel the way she thought as I read every one of them,” says Mary Lou.
“The show - it is quite an experience, an hour long show, - but it goes from having some of the brightest to the darkest times and some of the funniest, because it is like anyone’s story,” she says.
While having a background in theatre, Quinlan enlisted experienced theatre practitioner Martha Wollner to co-write and direct, and it seems, to marshal her away from her background as a longtime advertising executive and women’s marketing consultant, who would regularly give talks and presentations on stage.
“Work, work, work. I really worked. It is completely different,” says Mary Lou of the experience of being on stage in the play and what she had to do.
“Whenever Martha catches the speaker in me, she will say, she’s back, get her out of here,” laughs Mary Lou.
“This is different - so much deeper and dropping fully into the moment of the character, being me, as if it has never happened before, never; the story of the discovery, or how I felt and what I learned, has to be the first time, every time.
“I have worked for months and months - for three and a half years - and we are working together today in preparation for Ireland for this show, I never stop trying to deepen my work in the theatre. It is a real commitment and it has changed my life.”
The play’s tour to Ireland - also taking in the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire - will act as a fundraiser for the Irish Hospice Foundation and, in Limerick - where Mary Lou has deep connections to Adare and has been coming for two decades - Milford Care Centre. But the play “began with Mom,” she says.
“Not only the wonderful joy of growing up as her daughter and becoming her best friend, but when I lost her, that was the trigger for all of this,” she says.
“I just wanted to keep her in the world and everyone struggles with grief and trying to let go, so for me, my way of coping was to write - and then to put this on stage.”
The God Box: A Daughter’s Story, comes to the Lime Tree on June 20