- By Hubert Henry Davies
- Directed by Jack Sbarbori
- Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
- Reviewed by Steven McKnight
In a season where area theatergoers have been treated to serious works by great playwrights like August Wilson and Arthur Miller, an Edwardian drawing room comedy can be a timely treat. Under any circumstances, however, it is easy to surrender to the charms of The Mollusc, a gentle and entertaining work that receives a spot-on production by Quotidian Theatre Company.
A mollusc (spelled by Americans as “mollusk”) is a shellfish and certain species are known for clinging to a rock to preserve their environment. The title also refers to Dulcie Baxter (Malinda Smith), a woman who has mastered the art of living a quiet life with the help of her husband Richard (John Decker) and her children’s governess Miss Roberts (Laura Russell).
The play gets off to a slow start as it establishes how Dulcie has trained the two to serve at her beck and call. She never actually orders them to serve her; instead, she merely suggests how nice it would be if she had a footstool or if someone could bring her the magazine that is only a few feet away.
Her quiet and controlling lifestyle is threatened by the arrival of her energetic brother Tom Kemp (Steve Beall) who has spent recent years making his fortune in Colorado. Tom is appalled by the way she has enslaved her household, which he sees is damaging both to her marriage and to the future happiness of Miss Roberts. As he puts it, a single mollusc can infect an entire household.
Tom decides he is going to break the cycle of Dulcie’s “molluscry” which sets the stage for a gentle and delicious battle of wills. A prolonged confrontation over whether Dulcie will help him arrange some flowers becomes a hilarious epic battle. Tom tries a variety of tactics, ranging from teasing to cajoling to shaming Dulcie, but it is not easy to break a woman who has spent years becoming a master mollusc.
Malinda Smith’s performance as Dulcie is both subtle and delightful, one of the most entertaining comedic performances of the year. John Decker is perfectly cast as her milquetoast husband and he has some of his best comic moments gloating as Tom has no more success taking Dulcie in hand than he has had. He also reveals a serious side when he faces the prospect of losing Miss Roberts, his companion by default because of Dulcie’s torpor, to Tom.
Steve Beall’s performance as Tom drives the story and he commands the stage with a passion for life, for his beloved Colorado, and for Miss Roberts. Laura Russell makes a suitably charming and demure Miss Roberts.
Hubert Henry Davies wrote this play a century ago and its frothy yet sophisticated manner is reminiscent of a gentle Oscar Wilde work. At the same time this play is totally relevant to modern times with its sexual politics and passive-aggressive psychological struggle. As the play progresses the audience becomes increasingly invested in the fate of the characters and the laughs build correspondingly.
Director Jack Sbarbori does a fine job handling the pacing and tone of the work, trusting in the delightful material he is given. His set design is a charming drawing room with period furniture and decorations which transport the audience to the Baxter home outside London. Stephanie Mumford does a nice job outfitting the cast in clothing appropriate for the period.
The Mollusc does not feature the rat-a-tat sitcom style of setup and punchline that television has indoctrinated into modern audiences. Instead it offers a more gradual and more satisfying set of pleasures to the audiences who will have the patience to let the work build. You are guaranteed to leave The Mollusc with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart.
- Running Time: 2:05 (one intermission).
- Where: Quotidian Theatre Company at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
- When: Through May 4th. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm.
- Tickets: $20.
- Info: Call (301) 816-1023 or consult the website.
In this paragraph:
Steve Beall’s performance as Tom drives the story and he commands the stage with a passion for life, for his beloved Colorado, and for Miss Roberts. Laura Davies makes a suitably charming and demure Miss Russell.
The actress’ name is Laura Russell, and the part is Miss Roberts.
[Editor: Amended as noted. Thanks for the correction.]