BWW Reviews: Scena Theatre's MOLLY Portrays a Leading Light of the Early Dublin Stage
He was a strait-laced Irish nationalist-a Protestant nationalist, to boot-and one of Ireland's leading literary figures. She was a free-spirited Dublin teenager, a Catholic girl with a little more than a grade-school education but with enough self-assurance for them both. Their brief collaboration at Dublin's Abbey Theatre was as brilliant as it was short-lived; each pushed the other to new heights of artistic achievement, cut short only by his untimely passing.
The man in question was playwright John Millington Synge, the woman actress Molly Allgood; they met at the Abbey and as fate would have it, there were less than three years in which to meet, fall in love, collaborate, bask in the limelight, and then part. Today the couple is perhaps most famous for their work in Synge's scandalous "Playboy of the Western World." The play, which featured Molly in the unforgettable role of Pegeen Mike, traces the comic rise and fall of a self-proclaimed patricide. When it opened, "Playboy" set off a firestorm in the press-a truly humorless bunch that didn't realize Synge had little use for a politically-correct, idealized version of Ireland the nationalists favored. Molly loved every minute of it-the performances, the riots, the insults hurled at the stage-and Synge, had he not succumbed to Hodgkin's Disease at the age of 37, would have had a career creating role after role for this self-assured leading lady.
Naturally, coming as this tale does from the early 1900's, it's a lot more about Synge we've been hearing. But just as naturally, this being the 21st century, it's Molly we now have a chance to meet. With "Molly," local playwright George O'Brien has given us a portrait of the artist at the most tragic and pivotal moment of her early career; with her beloved John recently passed, she roams the streets of Dublin a little distracted, but decked out (thanks to Alisa Mandel) in truly theatrical mourning dress.
Actress Danielle Davy gives us a vivid incarnation of Synge's muse and fiancée, a performance that is by turns hilarious and deeply moving. The play has been given a fine, deftly-directed trajectory thanks to Scena Theatre's Robert McNamara, and is enhanced by ProScenia's projections of scenes from turn-of-the century Ireland, both city and countryside. The brogue is occasionally thick and of course it helps if you're familiar with the leading lights of the modern Irish stage, but Davy carries you through the evening effortlessly with Mollly's determination and her charm.
Although a meandering affair, as memory plays often are, O'Brien's "Molly" gives us a glimpse of an actress who is saddened by her lover's death, but by no means a victim. A young woman who is just as bored by the weepy Irish stereotypes as we are, she hasn't the least inclination to indulge herself with tears. Molly is clear-eyed, and fully aware of her beau's virtues and eccentricities; she can celebrate their work and life together without a trace of the nostalgia that so often plagues pieces like this.
It's also a real pleasure to have her down-to-earth take on the leading lights of Irish literature, with W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory put firmly in their place. Davy's depiction of Molly debunking the Irish pantheon are worth the price of admission alone, and her stage presence sustains our interest as the thread of conversation wanders far and wide, from the Abbey's backstage to the sunny Wicklow hills.
Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
Molly runs August 23-September 21 at the Atlas Performing Arts center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the Atlas box office at 202-399-7993 or online at https://atlasarts.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Si0000004jL61EAE .