WASHINGTON, August 29, 2014 – Danielle Davy delivers a riveting performance as “Molly,” the heroine of George O’Brien’s new play, now running at DC’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, located in the heart of the H Street Corridor’s newly emerging arts and entertainment district on the Northeast side of Capitol Hill extended.
Scena Theatre’s world premiere production of this one-woman drama follows the life and often hard times of Irish playwright J.M. Synge’s vampish mistress, who channels the melancholy mood of the Irish preoccupation with death, religion and class conflict.
The playwright is a native of Ireland who has written multiple Irish memoirs, literary articles for the Irish Times, and studies of famed Irish playwright Brian Friel. He won the Irish Book Awards silver medal and is currently a Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University.
As Molly Allgood, the star of Mr. O’Brien’s play, Danielle Davy’s ravishing red mane and her gothic black funeral costume, designed by Alisa Mandel, set the haunting mood of a lurking vampire determined to join her recently departed lover and would-be husband in the after-life. At times, it seemed that all Ms. Davy’s portrayal needed was a set of uilleann pipes playing an Irish funeral dirge to make her story more authentic than Davy’s distinctive Irish brogue.
Set in 1909 just off O’Connell Street near Dublin’s legendary Abbey Theatre, O’Brien’s play first reveals Molly lurking in the shadows of this venue, where she auditioned in 1906. The 18 year-old ingénue had taken as her stage name her Granny’s proper Irish name, Maire (Mary) O’Neill, launching her career as a star of stage and eventually the silent screen. She was the original Pegeen Mike in the premiere performances of Synge’s masterpiece, “The Playboy of the Western World.”
Three years later after an 18 month final illness from recurring Hodgkins’ disease, Synge was dead at the age of 37 and a bereft Molly was lost in a fit of melancholy. Quoting the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the “Irish Central” once noted his apt observation, “I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.” That certainly seems to apply to the ill-fated romance between Molly and the famed Irish playwright.
As the young, ultimately jilted Molly, Danielle Davy fully realizes her character in this powerful 75 minute-long monologue, which is interrupted only by vintage images of 19th century Irish photos of the Abbey Theatre and a rogues’ gallery of Irish playboys, thugs and Catholic clergy figures. During it all, Molly describes the personal turmoil of being in love with a weak-willed but brilliantly creative man who, she wryly notes, “Lived with his mother longer than Jesus”!
“Waiting, waiting, waiting,” moans Molly later, recounting her unfortunate fate of serving as the shadowy, scandalous woman-in-waiting for her ultimately doomed lover, finally trying to determine her future, once again on the streets but this time outside the church where Synge was eulogized before finally being put to rest.
Ultimately, Ms. Davy’s multi-faceted performance is a brilliant blend of Irish wit and humor that sparkles throughout.
“Molly” is one-half of Scena artistic director Robert McNamara’s ambitious “Two For” package of overlapping Irish productions at the Atlas. The package also includes “Shining City,” a play by modern master Conor McPherson in addition to George O’Brien’s new world premiere drama. Both dramas are ably directed by Mr. McNamera.
McNamara’s connection to Ireland runs deep. In Dublin he received a Masters in Literature degree from Trinity College and subsequently founded Dublin Stage One Theatre. In addition “Shining City,”McNamara has produced many other modern Irish classics by McPherson including “Dublin Carol” in 2009, “The Weir” in 2011, and “The Seafarer” in 2012.
This reviewer rates “Molly” four-and-a-half out of five stars for its commanding one-woman performance by Danielle Davy, and its sophisticated period costumes which transports you back to Dublin in 1909.
The only distraction during the performance we attended was a noisy HVAC system in one of the Atlas’ black box theater lab performance spaces. that occasionally kicked in with humming background noise. But to her credit Ms. Davy ignored the irritation and never missed a beat, even when a late arriving elderly guest stumbled into the theater 15 minutes after the start of the play.
Rating: **** 1/2
Tickets and Information: “Molly” continues at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through September 21, 2014. For tickets and further information and to learn more about Scena’s mission and “Molly’s” companion production “Shining City,” please visit ScenaTheater.org or call 703-684-7990.