Paradise by the Dashboard Light


Firehouse Theatre’s “The Barber of Moville” is one of the season’s best.

At first, it sounds like a grand getaway.

Molly and Dommo are closing their barbershop in Ireland to take a trip to Switzerland, stay in a fancy hotel, have a four-course meal and see a performance of “The Barber of Seville,” Molly’s favorite opera. The day after the opera, if all goes to plan, a doctor will give Molly a lethal injection before she loses any further cognitive function to dementia.

Staged at the Firehouse Theatre in its U.S. premiere, Irish playwright Ronan Carr’s “The Barber of Moville” is one of those shows where you can feel the heartbreak coming on early. But the magic is in the telling, and here director Nathaniel Shaw and actors Katie McCall and David Bridgewater have crafted an engagingly earnest and darkly funny show that plays out in real time.

The show begins with Molly getting the barbershop ready for the day’s customers. Soon, we learn that all is not well through McCall’s understated performance and Todd Labelle’s effective sound design. When Dommo arrives at the shop with their suitcases packed for the trip, he asks Molly what she’s doing. It’s only then that she begins to realize that things aren’t what they seem. Slowly, Dommo unspools the plan that they hatched together for Molly to forgo a drawn-out decline.

As anyone who’s had a loved one grapple with cognitive decline can attest, this production has obviously done its homework. McCall is believable as Molly, lost at times, but still searching to figure things out. As her character mixes up people and events – and occasionally has raw outbursts of emotion – McCall maintains Molly’s dignity.

Bridgewater’s performance takes us through the highs and lows of a man watching his wife come apart. Whether it’s the defeated sadness of realizing just how much his character’s wife has lost or the joy he feels when she puts the clues back together, Bridgewater serves as a relatable figure for the audience.

For a single location show that takes place in real time over the course of an hour, “Moville” never feels like it’s stuck in one place. As memory can serve as a form of time travel, when Molly suddenly begins remembering their romance and relationship, it’s as though you’re watching them fall in love again for the first time. We’re charmingly transported to their college days, when Dommo wore a ridiculous hat and they both were aspiring painters. They have a good-natured repartee, including a longstanding squabble over whether Bruce Springsteen or Meat Loaf is better.

In its first performances, “Moville” was staged in actual barbershops around Ireland. Perhaps taking inspiration from that, Chris Raintree’s barbershop set is hyper realistic on one end, but gives way to fissures and gaping holes as a metaphor for the changing state of Molly’s mind. And a prominently placed clock on the back wall emphasizes the fact that their time together is running out.

Superbly written, acted and directed, “The Barber of Moville” is one of the finest shows of the season.

“The Barber of Moville” plays through July 17 at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St. For more information, visit firehousetheatre.org or call (804) 355-2001.

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