Some acting teachers ask their students to imagine: What kind of animal are you? The truer question for Marissa Molnar might be: What kind of animal aren’t you?
Equally at home playing the beauty or the beast, Molnar made a name for herself in recent years as one of the DC area’s most transformative actors. She’s jumped from Shakespeare to contemporary drama to highly physical productions at Synetic Theater. She plays the lady with willowy grace, but muscles her way into darker, more physical roles with a natural animal instinct.
An Ohio native, Molnar attended American University and remained in DC after graduating. She moved to New York a little over two years ago, but she’s back in DC this holiday season performing in The Screwtape Letters, the returning tour of the highly-successful stage adaptation of the classic 1942 novel by C.S. Lewis which opens Dec 19th at the Lansburgh Theatre.
“I’m new to the tour,” Molnar said in a phone interview last week. “There have been several iterations of the show, developed and toured over several years. And this tour is booked all the way through 2013, all around the country. It’s a super nice team of people, so I’m making myself at home.”
Over fifty American cities this season, in fact, are getting a visit from The Screwtape Letters — a darkly funny fable about morality and damnation told by Screwtape, Satan’s personal psychiatrist. The play is set in Screwtape’s office in Hell, in which we are treated to the preeminent rascal’s musings on the best ways to tempt humans toward sin.
Screwtape is our diabolical host for the evening. But he’s not alone: Molnar plays his silent demon assistant Toadpipe, who illustrates Screwtape’s schemes in a purely physical capacity.
For Molnar, who has often taken roles that weave together acting, music, and dance, playing Toadpipe is a great test of skill. “I’m mostly known for my work with Synetic, so the role is a great fit. They wanted something very specific,” she said. “It’s only a two-person show, but it’s highly choreographed. As Screwtape speaks, I’m doing a lot of creature work — non-human physical movement to help interpret his language. Toadpipe provides the audience with some context as the story goes along.”
“What more could you ask for?” she added. “You get to be funny and freaky at the same time.”
Molnar had read other works by C.S. Lewis, particularly the Chronicles of Narnia series, but only became familiar with the text of The Screwtape Letters in preparation for this role. “I find it so interesting… Lewis’s text is a satire on religion, and specifically Christianity, but also on human nature. The book and the show have a lot to say philosophically about how humans behave. It’s a funny twist, to hear Screwtape talking about luring souls into Hell in such an academic way, but it’s also a universal story about how people communicate… how they fall into bad patterns, and fall into good ones too.”
The team is confident that DC audiences will love the production, which has played herein 2008 and 2009. “It’s perfect as a piece in rep with the shows over at Shakespeare Theatre,” Molnar said. “It’s intellectual, and it’s great for people who think a lot about human nature, including politics.”
Molnar joins the tour alongside Tamala Bakkense, who also plays Toadpipe for select performances. The actor playing Screwtape will vary as well, played through December 30 by Max McLean (who also adapted and directed this adaptation with Jeff Fiske); the final week of performances will debut Brent Harris in the role.
Coordinating a national tour is no small task, and the question of which performer goes onstage when and where is just one of the elements in this sliding puzzle. For Molnar, some questions remain about her exact scheduling and involvement. “But I’ll be touring with them throughout 2013. It’s good to have a rotating cast. It keeps things flexible.”
Flexibility is a plus, since Molnar has another show coming up in January in New York: a new devised piece with Broken Box Mime Theater called Loud and Clear. “I’m getting off the train in New York and going right into tech for that one.”
Molnar is also seeking more acting work on camera, having recently just completed several film projects. In addition, she teaches piano lessons to over a dozen young students at her apartment in Brooklyn. Clearly, life’s a juggling act.
“The first year and a half here was hard,” she said. “New York makes you focus. You have to put your energy toward certain goals. So I have two angles — I’m pursuing film and I’m pursuing physical theatre, and I’m not pushing for much of anything else right now. It doesn’t really cut off opportunities, it just lets me split my brain in a way that keeps me going.”
Closes January 6, 2013
450 7th Street NW
Tickets: $39 – $59
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Also on Molnar’s to-do list: Get an agent. Grow a relationship with Broken Box and do more shows with them in 2013. Open up some chances to create some new experimental work, “to exercise my choreographic muscles.” Talk to more physical theatre troupes, and see their work. Get out of the country, go to Europe and work with some masters. Maybe start a brand-new company. Keep the ball rolling.
She’s on cloud nine. “I’m really happy with my life. This is the perfect step for what’s happening now.”
In the meantime, catch her in Hell through January 6, 2013.
Marissa Molnar’s website