Dealing with the devil at the DMV
By Wendy Rosenfield
Posted on Tue, Jun. 24, 2008
For The Inquirer
Souderton's Montgomery Theater has chosen a quirky batch of plays this season, and its final offering, Ten Percent of Molly Snyder, is no exception.
Richard Strand's examination of the nefarious control civil servants exert over our lives premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2001. Small companies love to produce compact, direct pieces like this one: It requires one simple set, two actors, and very little time.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Molly Snyder might have been paired by Montgomery with another one-act, if only to give the audience the full two-acts-with-intermission experience. After all, these days, entertainment dollars are getting harder and harder to find. Still, the play is a fulfilling bit of absurdism that whizzes along at whiplash speed, leaving you as disoriented as poor Ms. Snyder (though much more amused).
Strand's story begins, like so many tales of frustration and woe, with a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Molly (Leah Walton) makes her first mistake when she accuses the department of transposing a pair of numbers on her driver's license. She makes her second when she asks one Mr. Aaron (Tony Braithwaite) to fill out a form and correct the error.
Once Molly fires up the wheels of bureaucracy, their threshing teeth don't stop turning until she's been shredded to their satisfaction. It's said the devil has many names and faces, and Mr. Aaron does his darnedest to shape-shift under a series of increasingly ridiculous monikers throughout Molly's ordeal, turning up in such satanic guises as a newspaper editor and a talent agent (though really, what's worse than a DMV functionary with a superiority complex?).
Under Tom Quinn's direction, Braithwaite is alternately blasé and threatening, releasing just enough menace to hint at his character's great, great power, but never toying with Molly outright. It's enough to drive her crazy, and Walton slides easily from ditzy artist to paranoid transient. Both performances are well-oiled, and suited to the script's pace and clever circumlocutions.
It's the sort of work for which the adjective "Kafkaesque" was coined. Molly's predicament might today hint at Guantanamo's labyrinthine judicial process (this hint is slyly abetted by Adam Riggar's set design, which features several projected images, including a medieval-looking torture chamber), but Strand's work is apolitical in its generic disdain for monolithic organizations, be they corporate, governmental or institutional.
Of course, that assertion might make this production sound like a very serious affair, which it isn't at all. We can laugh at Molly while empathizing with her, can't we? Even if Strand confirms all our suspicions about ruffling the feathers of City Hall, maybe we're just relieved that for once it's someone else on the other side of that desk, pleading for a change-of-address form.
Through July 12 at Montgomery Theater, 124 Main St., Souderton. Tickets: $19-$33. Information: 215-723-9984 or www.MontgomeryTheater.org.
Before you visit a government office, get your tickets to see this great show!