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Review: HOBSON'S CHOICE at Quotidian Theatre Company

Review: HOBSON'S CHOICE at Quotidian Theatre Company
Andrew Walker White in Quotidian Theatre Company's production of Hobson's Choice. Photo by Steve LaRocque.

Last season on Broadway there was a play called Time and the Conways presented at Roundabout Theatre Company. The play hadn't been seen on Broadway since 1937 and after seeing it I understood why. That said, the production had a great look and a very good cast so you could forget about the stodginess of the script. Bethesda, Maryland-based Quotidian Theatre Company's current production of Hobson's Choice bears a resemblance to Time and the Conways because you don't ever see it performed. Unfortunately, the production values - a result of a limited budget - and some questionable casting can't hide all the warts of Harold Brighouse's over 100-year-old script.

Henry Horatio Hobson (Andrew Walker White) owns a boot shop in Saliford, Lancashire, England. He has some of the richest clients in town. He is also a misogynist. Even though he has three daughters, Maggie (Rebecca Ellis), Vickey (Meredith Richard), and Alice (Carolyn Kashner), he has decreed that none of them will ever get married. This, of course, leads to a feud within the family, but ultimately the three daughters prevail.

Maggie ends up with the most unlikely catch. Will Mossop (Matt Baughman) works as a shoemaker in Hobson's shop and, by the end of the show, he has his own place that takes Hobson's business away. After Hobson has one too many on a particular night, he is hauled into the police station for disorderly conduct. Dr. MacFarlane (Jean Miller) recommends that Maggie move back home to take care of her father. I'll leave it there, but you might be able to see where this is headed. Can you say blackmail?

I am well aware it's hard to put on a production of a lesser known piece, and for that I give Quotidian Theatre Company props. However, this production violates the first rule of theater taught in school - light the actors FIRST then the scenery. Lighting designer Don Slater chose not to follow this age-old policy. One particular case is the most significant. During one pivotal scene, the cast is seated at a dining room table, and at least one actor is always in the dark. The unfortunate mistake couldn't have happened at a worse time. Limited light plot or not, the rule still applies.

It's not all bad news, however. The set by Director David Dubov and Artistic Director Jack Sbarbori manages to get three separate locations onto the small stage of the Writer's Center, which in turn gives Dubov's staging room to breathe as opposed to being crammed.

Casting wise, Andrew Walker White gives the most convincing and natural performance in the title role. It's a welcome return to the stage for a guy that has kissed veteran actor Rick Foucheux onstage at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and gave a tour de force solo performance in his own Enoch Arden at Capital Fringe. Welcome back Mr. White!!

I also rather enjoyed Rebecca Ellis as the strong-minded Maggie Hobson. Towards the end of the show, she is the perfect match for the drunken and remorseful White.

Some of the other actors provide stock character interpretations rather than realistic ones. The biggest offender for me is probably Matt Baughman as Will Massop. His characterization feels like something out of a Monty Python film rather than a serious stage piece.

There is something to be said about how strong the women characters are in a show that is over 100 years old and for that reason alone I understand why Quotidian Theatre Company chose to produce Hobson's Choice. However, if you are going to take on that challenge you need to step up all of your elements. Aside from White, Ellis and an attractive set, this did not happen.

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, including one intermission.

Hobson's Choice runs through March 11, 2018 at The Writer's Center, which is located at 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, click here.

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