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Shannon Kearns will never have a role to equal the lead she played in The Testament of Mary

by Irish master Colm Toibin. Not just the leading character, she was the only character, except for a couple of guards lurking nearby, pretty much in silence.

Holding the stage alone for ninety minutes with no intermission, she delivered a tour de force seldom seen in any theater anywhere.

The Undermain was gutsy to do it, since nobody takes on the Mother of God without strong complaints from those who object

to subjecting scriptural truths to an imagination as fertile and forceful as Toibin’s. But it worked. Laura Bush was there for the first preview.

So was Colm Toibin himself, slouching in his seat on the first row. Was Shannon Kearns nervous? Did she try to tune them out? Not at all. “I tried to share the work with them with as much authority as I could,” she recalled.

And she has the authority of someone who had “grown up Catholic” but now is immersed at the Center for Spiritual Living in “the oneness” of the world with the life of the universe, the “infinite unknown.”

Kearns feared at first that she never could make it as an actor because she was from such a small town, near Rochester, New York.

Nonetheless, after Bucknell University on a scholarship she went on to a theater program at the University of Tennessee and also had a year in London.

Next came Dallas where she moved in pursuit of a relationship that didn’t last. Collin College did, however. Kearns has been teaching there for 17 years— improvisation, movement onstage, and introduction to theater.

It has supported her work at the Undermain Theatre, where Katherine Owens,

founder and artistic director and Bruce DuBose,

founder and executive producer of the theater, took her in and made her a mainstay of the always serious and energetic effort there.

Next spring Kearns will play Masha in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a part once performed by Olga, fabled wife of the playwright.

 In the last scene Masha plants a lingering farewell kiss on a brief love, artillery officer-philosopher Vershinin, then breaks into sobs. “She is not being fed,” explained Kearns.

 “She craves the food of understanding.” Moreover, “she is silent a lot.”

It’s nothing like Mary, who, though more agonizingly distraught, has a lot to say, much of it of profound importance.

Playing her “grew my ability, grew my resilience, grew my heart,” said Shannon Kearns. “It was the best experience I have ever had.”

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