I was surprised by Amphibian Stage’s Miss Molly: A Marital Deceit of Honest Intentions…and in the best way.
Comedy, I expected. Clever lines, I expected. Zany situations, I expected.
But true tenderness? The kind you carry with you and think about after the show? The kind that prompts a sigh for all the love wasted over centuries of rules that insisted human hearts could only lean in one direction? That was the surprising artistry that pulled this very funny show up to another level altogether.
But that’s stuff to think about later. In the moment, let’s make it clear, Miss Molly is a hoot and a half—a twisting and comical delight that keeps us guessing right to the end.
“Two fags, coming right up!” trills an upright British baroness (Laurel Collins), going in search of the aforementioned cigarettes. On cue, Matthias Manley (Parker Gray) and Aloysius Thurston (Brayden Raqueño) pop into the room, to a roar of laughter from the audience.
The funny comes in all shapes, sizes, and levels of sophistication in this world premiere production. Playwright Christine Carmela’s clever and warm-hearted script keeps a lot of balls in the air, both metaphorical and literal, in this story of two suspiciously natty young gentlemen, two strong-willed young ladies…and their in-teresting mothers.
There’s more than a whiff of Oscar Wilde in the proceedings, of course: Miss Molly is set in the (Importance of Being) “Earnest” years of the late 1800s, and in the same strata of English society, with its deathly fear of provoking any sort of scandal—especially those involving courtship and marriage.
“Comedy, I expected. Clever lines, I expected. Zany situations, I expected.
But true tenderness? The kind you carry with you and think about after the show? The kind that prompts a sigh for all the love wasted over centuries of rules that insisted human hearts could only lean in one direction? That was the surprising artistry that pulled this very funny show up to another level altogether.” – Jan Farrington, Onstage NTX
Playwright Carmela, a TCU theater alum, is based in Los Angeles but has performed on both coasts (at NYC’s SoHo Rep, among other venues). She plays Miss Molly Houseington, the elder (and more marriage-minded) of two noble and wealthy sisters; the younger Miss Genevieve (Logan Graye) rejects the whole idea of giving up her independence. Miss Molly is “seeing” eligible minor nobleman Manley (Gray), and growing impatient with his elusive ways. Manley’s lifelong best friend Thurston (Raqueño) is forever hanging around; perhaps, Molly thinks, a match-up of sister Genevieve and the ever-present Mister T would solve many problems.
The young women’s mother, Viscountess Petunia Houseington (Emily Scott Banks) is eager to see her daughters marry well, but uneasy about Manley and Thurston, who seem “queer” to her (the word meant “odd” at the time). After a police raid of a gentlemen’s club, and the arrests of some friends, both men seem suddenly eager for marriage—but how to get past the wary, eagle-eyed Petunia?
The plot becomes a tangled web, and the Viscountess (she doesn’t seem like a Petunia) enlists the young men’s mothers—the ditzy (or is she?) Baroness Manley (Collins) and the wised-up Baroness Thurston (Shannon McGrann)—to help her discover what’s what (and who’s who).
Things get complicated, the stage chock-full of absurd pleasures, each given their moment by Evan Michael Woods, making his directorial debut at Amphibian. This is a terrific cast, a finely-tuned ensemble who pull maximum fun out of each bit. Carmela and Graye make a goofily believable pair of sisters, prickly with one another as only sisters can be. Gray gives full rein to his endless comic inventiveness (he leaps, shrieks, falls, quivers), with Raqueño keeping up at every turn, but in his own elegant and bouncy style.
The “mums” are a trio to treasure: Collins (as Manley’s mother) is hilariously two beats behind anything that’s happening; McGrann (as Mama Thurston) casts a lingering oh-my glance at a notorious painting of someone’s “mossy treasure” (the play excavates some ancient and jaw-droppingly funny euphemisms for our enjoyment); and the suspicious Viscountess finally gives in to her real (or convenient) “memory loss” to let the younger generation take its chances. Each of them is a treat to watch—and together, they’re simply delicious.
Aaron Patrick DeClerk’s vintage costumes are a marvel of detail and style; Paige Hathaway’s deep-toned set design had me scribbling notes for the mansion I’d like someday; and lighting designer Luke Atkison did wonders with blackout bits alternating comic scene-lets between pairs of actors on opposite ends of the stage. (Loved the old-style stage lights at either end of the proscenium arch—another nice nod to old-school theater.) Star and playwright Carmela has pulled off that too-rare hat trick: a farce with genuine heart; and Woods (who met Carmela at TCU) makes a memorable debut at the helm, giving this complicated work a sparkling premiere.