The story is fascinating, the characters are real, and the overall production was one I won’t forget for a very long time.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis goes deep and thought-provoking with a brilliant world premiere production of Molly’s Hammer. The play was developed during The Rep’s Ignite! New Play Festival in 2015. Based on real life events pertaining to The Plowshare Eight (Google it!), the story centers around one woman’s crusade to make her world a safer place. While the story was set in the 1980s, it could have easily been set in modern times seeing how North Korea is flexing their alleged nuclear muscle.
Molly (Nancy Bell) has just returned home from a retreat with a religious group. She starts talking to her husband in generalities saying she has to do something about the threat of nuclear war, but she can’t tell her husband exactly what she is going to do. As expected, red lights go off in Bill’s mind, and he does everything in his power to keep Molly out of harm’s way.
Armed with a passion and a hammer, Molly has her eyes on the prize and will stop at nothing until she achieves her goal. After making sure her children and her husband will be taken care of, Molly sets off with a group of seven—led by a charismatic Catholic priest, Daniel Berrigan (Kevin Orton)—who plan on disarming nuclear warheads in a General Electric nuclear missile facility. While things go smoothly, Molly and her group are caught and a trial ensues. The fallout of the story is the price some people pay for the things in which they believe.
The main takeaways from the show are faith vs. fanaticism and the price of civil disobedience vs. accepting the societal norm of turning a blind eye. Molly’s faith guided her and gave her comfort that what she was doing was right, but from Bill’s viewpoint, Molly could be viewed as a fanatic who was acting as recklessly as the weapons she was fighting against. Nobody likes to think about nuclear war so most of us put it out of our mind. Molly and the rest of The Plowshare Eight had removed their blinders and saw the true horror of nuclear war. Their reality justified their social disobedience.
Everyone loves to root for the underdog and if there ever was one, Molly and her hammer vs. the nose cone of a warhead is a perfect example of a very inspiring underdog. This is the aspect of the production that moved me the most. I have always said I am one beret away from joining an underground movement. I want to feel something, do something, be something. Molly is the kind of American I want to be—someone who would risk everything for what they believe.
Bell’s performance as Molly was inspiring. Her delivery was moving, heart wrenching, and completely genuine. Not only was her performance exquisite, her ability to ad-lib with the audience nearly brought the house down. This is a career-making performance and not one to be missed.
Orton as Daniel—and a myriad of other characters —was superb. His ability to morph from one character to the next was mind-bogglingly sublime. The man could convincingly switch demeanor, age, and even sex at the drop of a hat. Besides Daniel, my other favorite character he portrayed was the judge who presided over Molly’s sham of a trial. This is good stuff people; you truly have to see it to appreciate this man’s ability.
The other star of the show was Tammy Ryan’s dialogue. As someone who appreciates the beauty of dialogue, this show was a virtual buffet of delicious morsels. How Bell wrapped her mouth around the wordy monologues I will never know. But it felt as if the two-hour-plus show flew by in a flash. The dialogue was crisp, authentic, and compelling. I didn’t want the story to end.
From start to finish, this production of Molly’s Hammer had me hooked. The story is fascinating, the characters are real, and the overall production was one I won’t forget for a very long time. This show may have even ignited my own inner political activist. You know what they say: If you stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. | Jim Ryan
Molly’s Hammer runs through March 27. Please visit repstl.org for show times and ticket prices.
Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr.