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Theater Review: “Molly” at Scena Theatre

George O’Brien’s one-woman show offers a look at a relatively unknown historical figure.

Danielle Davy in the one-woman show Molly at Scena Theater. Photograph by Jae Yi Photography.

Meet Molly. She’s a hard woman to root for, and a hard woman to relate to, and the audience has to spend quite a bit of time with her during George O’Brien’s world-premiere play, named for the character who had a real place in Irish history.

To put it bluntly, Molly can be a struggle. The one-woman show from Scena Theatre stars Danielle Davy, who plays the secret mistress to J.M. Synge, an influential Irish playwright who died at age 37 and left her behind. Molly’s in mourning, dressed all in black. lamenting the life that could have been—had Synge lived, had Synge embraced her publicly, and other what-ifs. 

Those unfamiliar with Synge’s work and influence won’t get much of a crash course from Molly—the work is much more about who he was as a man, and how he treated his mistress. It’s also about disapproving mothers, the social and societal conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, and how the ill-fated relationship consumes her life and self-worth (at least up to this point). 

The play ran about 20 minutes past its projected 75 minute running time on press night, and pacing is an general issue for the play, which chugs along slowly. Molly’s speeches, taken from her diary, meander and wane into bitterness. The character’s most shocking revelation, which comes near the end of the show, is staged in a way that feels jarring and out of character, and does little to raise the stakes for the audience. (Without giving away too much, let’s just say what passes as a a steamy affair was very different during that time and place.) Robert McNamara stages the show in a fairly straightforward manner: A black-box set is broken up every several minutes with grainy photos that show the historical figures and places (for example the Abbey Theatre, of which Synge was a cofounder) that were significant to the play.

Davy brings a steadfast conviction to her role. It takes some time to get used to the rhythm of her heavy Irish accent, which further distances her performance from the audience. She’s a convincing and capable performer, but she doesn’t really make Molly a riveting figure to watch. One-person shows are inherently a challenge to pull off—dynamic material and a wholly charismatic performance are both needed to ensure their success. Neither element is fully there in Molly.

Molly is at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through September 21. Running time is estimated at around 75 minutes without an intermission, but can run longer. Tickets ($25) are available through the theater’s website

Find Missy Frederick on Twitter at @bylinemjf