When Molly Drexler (Holly Twyford) pleads to her wife Abby (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) “Protect me from those people downstairs,” she isn’t just blowing smoke. The Drexlers are one whoo-whee, bat guano-crazy, toxic wonderland of a clan. Their idea of a family high-five is the ability to go to work after an all-night cocaine and booze binge.
Not that Molly is a girl scout. She’s an alcoholic and druggie whose nearly 10-year stint of sobriety ends with a bang after she goes on a toot and drives her Prius through the wall of the lovely, mid-century split level she shares with Abby in Sherman Oaks, California.
The house and car are not the only things she wrecked, as we find out later in Bad Dog, Jennifer Hoppe-House’s blistering comedy about how family dysfunction affects addiction. Hoppe-House’s visceral dialogue and depiction of poisoned, enabling relationships is so vivid and unsettling (and wacko-funny) that it would send Bill W. himself scurrying for the closest happy hour.
Where to begin with the dueling Drexlers? Among the folks flying in to get Molly in treatment for the umpteenth time include older sister Linda (Emily Townley), a journalist and emotional bully in a to-the-death competition with her screenwriter sibling. Linda crackles with anger and resentment for past hurts and incidents and while her motivation to support Molly yet again may be noble, in reality she is the antithesis of helpful.
On the other side of the spectrum is Becky (Amy McWilliams, striking a gentle, wounded note amid the chaos), the placating sister who is also a bit of a doormat. When she acknowledges that everyone has their “glitches,” Linda snaps “Molly makes our glitches look like the f-ing Christmas windows at Neiman-Marcus.”
Then mother Lois (Naomi Jacobson) roars in and you can see where Linda gets her rage. Stiff with anger, Jacobson’s Lois is like a pillar of salt in a pantsuit. She whips into high umbrage when her ex-husband Walter (Leo Erickson) arrives with Sondra (Gladys Rodriguez)—the woman he left Lois for 30 years ago.
Watching these foul family dynamics, you see on a visceral level the tragedy of being stuck. Molly may be 40, with a wife and a career, but really she hasn’t moved past the 11 year old girl who was chastised for being too old to hold hands with her father. That unwillingness to grow up could be ick, but Twyford skillfully balances Molly’s brattiness, brilliance and self-loathing into a potent package. Molly may be a train wreck, but Twyford will not allow us to give up on her.
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
September 30 – November 1, 2015
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
Olney, MD 20832
Tickets: $55 – $65
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Linda bears grudges and bitterness against Molly as proudly as if they were tattoos, while Lois keeps a death-grip over the breakup of her marriage as if it happened 10 minutes ago. Their lips pressed into similar thin, tight lines, Townley and Jacobson are twin forces of bright, negative energy that consume everything in its wake.
On top of the stasis, everyone spins in their own deranged orbit. Walter is such an egotist he thinks it is OK to bring a bottle of scotch into Molly’s house because he deserves a drink after a long day. Sondra blithely dispenses beauty advice and expounds on various crackpot theories—and feels comfortable (or clueless) enough to make casual racist remarks. Rodriguez’s astute timing playing the dope-smoking granny femme fatale is priceless—her pauses are like Pinter on laughing gas.
With its wrecking ball dialogue and humor, Bad Dog lunges at the hard truth that family is not always the answer to a crisis.
Bad Dog by Jennifer Hoppe-House. Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen. Featuring Leo Erickson, Naomi Jacobson, Alyssa Wilmouth Keegan, Amy McWilliams, Emily Townley, Holly Twyford, Gladys Rodriguez, Carlos Saldana. Set Design: Tony Cisek. Costume Design: Ivania Stack. Lighting Design: Dan Covey. Sound Design/Original Music: Joshua Horvath. Production Stage Manager: Keri Schultz. Produced by Olney Theatre Center. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.