“Molly’s Hammer” At Rep Studio Proves A Peek Into The Past Reveals Our Future

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Joe Osheroff as Bill and Nancy Bell as Molly in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

A world premiere at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre featured an opening night audience that included the playwright and the subject of her play, Molly Rush. “Molly’s Hammer” proves a worthy addition to the cannon of stories about protesters who make a difference- in both big and small ways.

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Nancy Bell as Molly and Kevin Orton- this time as Daniel Berrigan in the Rep Studio production of “Molly’s Hammer.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Set in 1980 and into 1981, “Molly’s Hammer” tells the story of one woman’s crusade to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From her home in Pennsylvania, we see her washing dishes in the opening scene and telling us about her concerns for her children in a world where one push of a button could start a war that would “nuke” the entire world. Despite protests about her action from her husband, Bill, Molly decides to join activists Daniel and Phillip Berrigan and others in a trip to the General Electric plant to participate in a peaceful protest against a company that provides warheads for the nuclear weapons. Molly takes her trusty household hammer along and starts hitting those warheads and even succeeds in breaking one.

Father Daniel Berrigan had been jailed many times for civil disobedience and now Molly must sacrifice being with her family and join him in jail while watching her husband begrudgingly soon leaning toward her side. It really becomes a matter of do I give up the things I love and worked for in order to make a statement and hopefully make even a small change? Which leads to the next question- will any of this make a difference? Molly feels it is a sacrifice worth making and, after we see her (back home in the comfort of her family), we do too.

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Nancy Bell wielding the infamous hammer as Molly Rush in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The incredible Nancy Bell delivers a bravura performance as the somewhat mousy yet dedicated Molly. Showing her performing the domestic tasks such as washing dishes, folding laundry and helping her son with his homework, it is a sharp contrast to the feisty- if low-key- determination in her fight to rid the world of such weapons. She enfolds the audience in her cause and you can’t help but admire her tenacity.

Joe Osheroff is wonderful as her sympathetic yet frustrated husband. We see their love unfold through a series of flashbacks and soon understand why this helps to eventually bind them even closer together. It helps that Bill has his list of reasons determined to stop Molly’s crusade but each one, as it is laid out, seems to fall apart next to the force of her cause. A truly brilliant performance is turned in by Kevin Orton as all of the other characters. From Daniel Berrigan to her twelve-year-old son to the smarmy judge and others, he makes each character spring to live- sometimes juxtaposing each other. It’s a true tour de force.

 

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Nancy Bell as Molly consoling her twelve-year-old, played by Kevin Orton in the Rep Studio production of “Molly’s Hammer.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Director Set Gordon tells a dynamic story in the simplest of terms. It resonates with today’s audience because of how close we may be again to a dangerous time in history where the world could easily become endangered by the worst enemy of all- man. The Gianni Downs set design is a magnificent series of bright red scaffolding intersected with plywood squares and rectangles woven in. Combined with the great lighting and projection designs of Mark Wilson, it makes for a powerful statement enhancing the otherwise simply told story. Lou Bird provides a lovely costume design as well.

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Kevin Orton as the judge admonishing Molly in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Make no mistake, this story has parallels to today’s world. Protests are erupting  in response to men instead of machines, but the underlying threat is still there. For those of us who lived through these (and other terrifying times), it simply reminds us of no matter how things change, they really stay the same. Originally conceived as a long one-act, “Molly’s Hammer” has been shifted to two 45-minute or so acts. I think the play could be cut here and there to trim it down to a more reasonable one-act but it’s still satisfying because of the content and, more importantly, because of the trio of actors and straightforward direction.

Catch “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio between now and March 27th. For some it will be nostalgia, for some it will be a history lesson, for all it should be a sobering moment of how the past can reflect the present and future.

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