This story features “Hobson’s Choice” presented by Quotidian Theatre Company. Learn more about this performance and get tix on the event page here.
Quotidian Theatre Company cast members brushed up on their English accents for their production of “Hobson’s Choice,” Harold Brighouse’s romantic comedy of manners that runs through March 11 on the stage of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
But don’t expect to hear the posh, clipped accents of “Downton Abbey.” Just as when the play premiered in 1916, the 11-member cast will use the broad, working class accent unique to Northern England. That accent, rarely heard on the stage at that time when upper-crust melodramas were the norm, helped make the play a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.
The company’s actors won’t be going “The Full Monty,” however.
“There’s that fine line of being a bit too authentic with an accent, and possibly having your audience not understand you,” said actress Rebecca Ellis, referring to the British movie that many Americans struggled to understand. “We’re using a Manchester dialect, but we split the difference in a few spots.”
Adapted as a silent film in the 1920s, “Hobson’s Choice” hit the big screen in films made in the 1950s and 1980s. And yet, Director David Dubov-Flinn said, most people are unfamiliar with the play about a curmudgeonly cobbler who must decide between marrying off his three daughters or saving his shoe shop thanks to their free labor. When he connives to keep his eldest daughter Maggie unmarried, she cleverly stays one bootstep ahead of him, and in the process, finds her soulmate.
“It’s such a charming play, delightful to both listen to and watch. It was one of the most popular plays in its day, yet you rarely see it performed nowadays,” said Dubov-Flinn.
Ellis, who plays the elder daughter Maggie, said the script—for all its period charm–is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Led by the indomitable Maggie, the sisters fight for the lives they want to lead versus the roles dictated by their father. Maggie even proposes marriage to Willie, her father’s talented but downtrodden employee. Before long, Maggie and Willie excel in business, causing her father to step back and rethink his world.
“In a way, Maggie is just like her headstrong father, but uses her feminine insights and wiles to outwit him,” Ellis said. “Maggie is very linear in the thinking, almost mathematically plotting out what needs to happen to achieve her goals.”
Despite her father’s objections, Maggie helps her sisters marry the men they love and opens Willie’s eyes to his full potential. But revenge or a desire for a better life is not what drives her.
“What motivates Maggie is love,” Ellis said. “In the end, she even makes sure her father is taken care of in his old age.”
“Hobson’s Choice” is ideally suited to the theater company’s goal of presenting plays that celebrate everyday life—even if those lives were lived in the 1880s, Dubov-Flinn said.
“The Quotidian Theatre Company’s goal is to present theater like you’re looking over a back fence, seeing real life played out before your eyes. ‘Hobson’s Choice’ fits that ideal,” he said.
Quotidian Theatre Company’s “Hobson’s Choice” runs through Sunday, March 11, at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays start at 8 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30, $25 for seniors, and $15 for students/Writer’s Center members. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com or by calling the Quotidian Theatre Company box office at 301-816-1023. Learn more about this performance on the event page here.