Maybe You’re Better Off Mae, from Leading Lady (Day 131)

This portrait of Mae Desmond is from the New York Public LIbrary's Theatre Collection

This portrait of Mae Desmond is from the New York Public LIbrary’s Theatre Collection

The “leading lady” of our story was born Mary Callahan in Southwark, an Irish enclave in South Philadelphia, but that name was not considered glamorous enough for a star of the stage. One of the themes that intrigued Seth and me was the challenge of being authentically “yourself” while pursuing a career in the theater. In the last song, Mary’s father counsels her to “stay true to who you are,” but now her boss is urging her to shed the name her father gave her in favor of something more glamorous. This is further complicated by issues of ethnicity; in America’s melting pot culture, people of unassimilated ethnicity (“me Yid, you Mick”) are not welcomed by the upper echelons of society.

ZIMMERMAN: “Mary’s” crass,
A common lass —
They’ll think you’ve got class if you’re “Mae!”
Something genteel
On the marquee
A classic ideal —

MARY: Do you mean me?

ZIM: They’ll say “Mae”
Is blithe and gay
But “Mary” is vulgar, they’ll say.

MARY: I always thought “Mary”
Was graceful and airy,

ZIM: Believe me, you’re better off “Mae!”

“Mae” has grace
Like hand-made lace
But “Mary” has nary a charm
An elegant ring
Like flowers in spring
What’s in a name?
Apparently, everything!

Mary’s crass
And bold as brass
And that will just your in my way
So don’t be contrary…

MARY: My pa named me “Mary”

BOTH: But maybe I’m (you’re) better off “Mae”

BRIDGE
Me “yid,” you “mick,”
It’s enough to make you sick!
So you’ve gotta learn the trick
Of blending, instead of offending!

ZIM
“Mae’s” unique
I’d say, tres chic
But “Mary’s” a little passe
You’ll always be wary
Of someone named Mary
A drudge from the dairy
In old Tipperary
Who’s probably hairy
With teeth that are scary

MAE: I won’t be contrary

ZIM: Say “farewell” to “Mary,”

BOTH: I know that I’m (you’re) better off “Mae!”

ZIMMERMAN
What about Desmond?

MARY
Desmond. Isn’t that a county in Ireland?

ZIMMERMAN
Could be. But I know it’s a hotel in Albany.

BOTH SING: Maybe you’re/I’m better off Mae… DESMOND!

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