BWW Review: THE MOLLUSC at Quotidian Theatre Company
In the grand tradition of plays like Pygmalion and Taming of the Shrew, The Mollusc centers around the idea of a problematic woman that the men around her set out to reform. Yet, what makes The Mollusc uniquely compelling is that, in this case, the reform is not solely for their personal benefit, and actually may be necessary for the greater good.
The Mollusc focuses on the Baxters, Richard and Dulcie, and their put-upon governess, Miss Roberts, in their home outside London. Miss Roberts has been trying to resign due to her inability to further their daughters' studies with her own limited education, which she cannot build upon under the weight of Mrs. Baxter's additional household demands, but Mrs. Baxter has so far refused to accept the resignation, continuously changing the subject and sending the other two off on small, but disruptive errands (fetching a book, fetching a letter-opener, moving a footstool, etc). The dynamic has hit a frustrating standstill when Mrs. Baxter's brother, Tom, arrives for a long-awaited visit. Upon witnessing the family's dynamic, Tom concludes that Dulcie is a "mollusc," a creature so intent on maintaining their own comfort, they exert all of their energy on actively avoiding responsibilities and pushing those duties onto others. Tom confides in Richard that his and Dulcie's parents were also very much like this, but that Dulcie has turned "molluscry" into an art. He is determined to cure her of this habit, which will relieve his brother-in-law and release Miss Roberts from her obligations, which would also leave her free to marry him and join him in Colorado. But his determination is equally matched by Dulcie's desire to keep her home exactly as it is.
Quotidian Theatre Company's production of The Mollusc wonderfully balances both the humor of the battle of wills fought between Tom and Dulcie, as well as the more dramatic emotional toll Dulcie's molluscry takes on her household. The audience immediately feels for Miss Roberts' situation, and Emily Gilson's portrayal makes the viewer want to root for her; Gilson's Roberts is kind, intelligent, and selfless, and it's easy to see why Tom falls for her so quickly, as well as why Dulcie takes advantage of her nature and why Richard takes to her as a companion. Craig Houk's Richard is a perfect blend of the character's defining traits: he's affable, a bit of a pushover (though not as much as one assumes on sight), and genuinely trying to do right by his family. Houk also provides the audience with some lighthearted humor - his small facial expressions and reactions are delightful, and give you a sense that the character is more formidable than the others assume. Tom is played wonderfully by Brendan Murray, who balances genuine concern with ego and bombast. He works wonderfully against Marnie Kanarek's Dulcie, and the push-pull dynamic between the two carries the heart of the show. Although we're inclined to root for Tom (and Murray makes it easy for us to do so), we can't help but delight in Dulcie's victories over him; Kanarek's portrayal is too fun for the audience to entirely turn on her, and Tom's reactions to his failure to move her almost makes it worth her victory, even as it threatens to destroy the household.
Aiding the fabulous cast is a smart, carefully decorated set (designed by Jack Sbarbori) that sets a wonderful tone and is both visually and functionally satisfying. Stephanie Mumfort's costumes set the time period and characters' personalities (and, as a fan of vintage clothing, made me immediately want to steal them). Sbarbori's tight direction, assisted by stage manager Lynda Bruce, carried the small cast and single set far beyond its physical barriers; the show never feels too small or too restricted, but instead hits the perfect dynamic notes for audience enjoyment and artistic delivery.
Overall, Quotidian Theatre Company's presentation of The Mollusc is delightful, emotional, and fun. Thankfully, this critic doesn't have much to add, which is a good thing since, as Dulcie notes:
"No one likes to be improved."
That may be true, but it's so much fun to watch them try.
Quotidian Theatre Company's production of The Mollusc plays at the Writer's Center in Bethesda through August 4th. Run time is approximately two hours with one intermission. Tickets and additional information can be found on the Quotidian Theatre Company website.
Photo Credit: Steve LaRocque