It’s easy to see why Moll, the comedy written by award-winning Irish playwright John B. Keane, has been so massively successful. The premise alone sets the stage up for sitcom-like laughs — three hapless priests recruit a new housekeeper who quickly turns the parish upside down.
Presented by the local Standing Room Only Theatre company as part of CelticFest Vancouver, Moll is currently enjoying a duel-run at St. James Hall and Dentry’s Irish Grill. One never knows what to expect from community theatre — especially when it tackles a well-loved play such as this one — but on March 11 at Dentry’s, with sharp comedic timing from a talented cast led by Tracy-Lynn Chernaske’s direction, Standing Room Only nailed it.
Soon after Moll (an effortless Keara Barnes) begins her position as the matriarch of a Kerry presbytery, she wraps the goodhearted-yet-clueless Canon Pratt (Kevin Ibbotson) around her finger while starving and snubbing his two curates. Bumbling Father Loran (Jonathan MacDonald) is slightly more tolerant of the situation than an exasperated Father Brest who, brilliant portrayed by Joe Hinks, becomes Moll’s nemesis. Barnes is deliciously shrewd as the play’s star, but it’s Hinks’ droll, red-faced delivery of the infuriated Brest that steals the show. The two play off each other riotously.
With two small rows of chairs in front of a cluster of booths facing a modest space that acted as the stage, the Dentry’s quarters were cozy, but it added to the effect. One felt as if they were part of the congregation, especially when the actors interacted with the audience — a skim from Moll’s duster here, a deadpan side-eye from Father Brest there. This carried through to the intermission, which was actually no intermission at all — rather, an entertaining game of bingo (Moll’s favourite game, administered by a pouty Father Brest) that, again, made the crowd feel warmly included.
Set in the early 1970s, one must note that Moll is not without its subtext — offhand jokes about birth control and marriage reflect a time that doesn’t quite recognize women’s rights. As well, Moll herself indeed may be selfish, but her extortion also builds a school, gives the church a new roof, and safeguards her a pension.
Comedy, however, is what takes centre stage in Moll and it’s served with a healthy dose of charm.
Standing Room Only Theatre’s production of Moll runs until March 16 at the St. James Hall and Dentry’s Irish Grille. More information here.