Instead of a comedy of manners, which often satirizes a society’s affectations, “The Mollusc” has been described as a “comedy of ill manners.”
This Edwardian farce by English author Hubert Henry Davies concerns Dulcie Baxter and her rare affliction: though she is not lazy, she takes her time doing things to the point that somebody else will do them for her. That is the case, even when it may take more energy to ask someone to do whatever it is than do it herself.
“The Mollusc” was originally written in 1907, but Quotidian – for its summer production of the four-character play – updated it by five years.
“It’s a charming play, which we first produced in 2008,” said Stephanie Mumford, Quotidian’s co-founder. “It was one of our most popular shows. When we tried to get rights for another show now and couldn’t, people suggested a comedy, and we thought of this.”
Dulcie is charming, but exasperating, Mumford explained, even though she isn’t always aware her behavior is negative. “Other people make it easy for her to fall into her habit, and her behavior is strategic; she knows how to get her way,” she said.
Enter her brother Tom Kemp, visiting from Colorado. He is determined to cure Dulcie of her condition, one he claims their father also suffered from. Tom enlists the help of Dulcie’s husband and the family governess, which may or may not help.
Portraying Dulcie is a departure for Marnie Kanarek.
“I’ve mostly been drawn to and played dramas,” she said. “But I found honesty and drama in this comedy. On the surface, Dulcie doesn’t seem that good or nice, but I can’t portray her as bad. The challenge is to find the humanity in her – for the audience to understand her, not dislike her.”
The play is both “beautifully subtle and over the top,” Kanarek added, so she expects audiences to laugh a great deal but also see themselves in the characters.
Another challenge is to treat the lines honestly. “Generally, people don’t talk to make other people laugh,” she said. “So, you can’t play for laughs. If you ham funny lines, audiences won’t appreciate them.”
Brendan Murray, playing Tom, is making his first appearance with Quotidian, though he has performed in area theaters as well as at Baltimore’s Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Though Tom, who has labeled his sister’s condition mulloscy, helps Dulcie, he also creates, or at least exacerbates, another difficulty. The long-simmering attraction of Mr. Baxter for the governess becomes further complicated when Tom falls for her himself.
Tom is a complex character who only grows in complexity as time goes on, according to Murray.
“He’s quite funny but aloof, a self-centered braggart,” Murray said. “We keep thinking he’s going to get his comeuppance, though he doesn’t. Certainly, he shows how easily manipulated all the characters are.”
Getting all the subtleties right is one challenge of his role. So is the language.
“It’s very early-20th century, with a sentence structure that seems unnatural now,” he said.
Then there’s that lingering question: is Tom’s correction of Dulcie’s mulloscy permanent or just a Band-Aid? Time will tell, Kanarek said.
Craig Houk plays Mr. Baxter, and Emily Gilson is the governess. QTC’s artistic director and co-founder Jack Sbarbori staged the production, as he did in 2008 (also doing the set design then).
“The Mollusc” runs on weekends from July 12-Aug. 4. An after-show talk with the director and casts of the 2008 and current production will follow the 2 p.m. matinee on July 20.