Playwrights sometimes seem to be a dour breed of humanity. Take Craig Wright as an example. Wright authored The Pavilion, which played at the Jungle Theater last year to big houses and good press before packing its steamer trunk and lighting out for a tour of regional stages across the country--by theater standards, a rousing success. Now the Jungle is producing Molly's Delicious, featuring an exquisite set, a fine cast (including Stephen D'Ambrose, the standout performer in The Pavilion), and a surfeit of clever banter and unanticipated plot twists. All of this augurs a good run for the play, and Wright might well be expected to celebrate by trashing a hotel room, driving a sports car into a swimming pool, and then flying out to Los Angeles to take over the Viper Room for a debauched evening of celebration.
Wright, however, is not a rock star but a playwright, and so he sat moodily at one end of the lobby after a production on his play's opening weekend, scowling into space. When a well-wisher asked how he was doing, he scowled some more and said, "I'm old news. I'm a piñata. I'm just here for people to beat up on."
I expect that Wright was putting on a little show, and how thoughtful! Where else can you see a play, and then, afterwards, see the playwright in an improvised one-man performance that we shall dub The Crabby Writer, which consists mostly of comical fretting and grousing? Molly's Delicious is populated with similar characters, who fuss bitterly at one another, but nestle deep in their chests the hearts of unabashed romantics.
Take Cindy and Alan Linda as an example: An older married couple (played by Camille D'Ambrose and Stephen D'Ambrose), they are the owners of an apple orchard where the play is set, meticulously rendered by director Bain Boehlke, who piles the stage high with bushels of apples, full-grown apple trees, and the complete side of a house for good measure. The Lindas bicker incessantly ("We're either going to have a very long talk or a very short gunfight," Cindy threatens), and, over the course of the play, most of their bickering revolves around their niece Alison (Maggie Chestovich). Small-framed and painfully young (she still makes little-girl faces, rolling her eyes and pouting when confronted by her elders), Alison is nonetheless hugely pregnant, and hugely romantic about the subject. The co-author of her predicament is a sailor in the Coast Guard (played by Sam Rosen), and, this being the Sixties, he is in Vietnam, stubbornly refusing to respond to any of the pleading letters she sends.
Cindy sets to meddling, arranging a date between the niece and a milquetoasty and very smitten young mortician (a bashful Casey Greig in a frumpy suit and thin moustache). Cindy's husband sets to complaining about it, and sooner or later everybody storms off the stage in a huff, their angry shouts trailing behind them long after they are gone. The usual array of romantic complications ensues: The mortician sputters out that he has always wanted to run away and start a wildflower farm, causing the pregnant niece to bestow one momentous kiss on his lips; the sailor boyfriend shows up, carrying a camera and a series of awkward gifts, including a model train kit, a pair of maternity coveralls, and a wedding ring; the girl proposes a solution that would have sexual libertines nodding with approval.
Come to think of it, that last plot point should be a little surprising. But then again, some creative marriage arrangements were also the theme of The Crowded Bed by the recently deceased Minneapolis writer Harold S. Kahm, which played in a revival at the Acadia Cabaret about a year ago. This leads me to believe that, in plays set in the Sixties, it is quite common for a young girl caught between two lovers to come up with some fairly worldly arrangements. Of course, with a lot as cantankerous as those found in Molly's Delicious, such a suggestion is bound to set off another round of shrill complaining.
But here is where Wright shows his true self, which, beneath his moody exterior, I imagine involves rose plucking from the dew, and Flavio-like poetry recitation to the roses, and then to the moon. Wright has set the age of his three romantic leads--the pregnant niece, the timorous mortician, and the boisterous sailor--so close to childhood that they can still earnestly discuss how good it once felt to suck on the edge of a washcloth while their parents bathed them. They likewise share an unbridled sense of possibility that time has beaten out of their elders. And so an impossible, preposterous romantic notion seems less like a recipe for disaster than an imaginative solution to a pressing problem. And, though Wright is well past the age of his leads, and tends to sit in the corner of theater lobbies making faces as though he had just licked an ashtray, one gets the sense that he agrees with them. And they say romance is dead.