Summer in Maryland is typically all about crustaceans, but the Quotidian Theatre Company is offering something a little bit different: “The Mollusc.”
Only vaguely connected to seafood, British playwright Hubert Henry Davies’ 1907 comedy of manners centers on a woman named Dulcie Baxter, whose “molluscry” — she’s perhaps a bit sluggish, clingy, dependent on others to maintain her slow and undisturbed lifestyle — is something her brother, back from success in America, sees as a curable condition.
“Dulcie is very present but manipulative. She gets other people to do the work for her,” explained Brendan Murray, who plays Dulcie’s brother, Tom Kemp, in the current production at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. “It’s really funny.”
Funny in that “Downton Abbey” way, with dry British humor and witty turns of phrase. “The characters are stuffy, but you still care about them,” said Murray. “The trick is to make them likeable and understandable, even if they’re out of the modern realm.”
The Silver Spring resident, 53, is well equipped to pull off the trick. Murray is not a professional actor — he has a day job, a family, a hobby or two outside theater — but he has plenty of experience and some training as well.
“I’ve done a lot of things with Silver Spring Stage, a very high-quality community theater,” he said. “I’ve also done professional work, most recently with Chesapeake Shakespeare company in Baltimore, and some smaller companies in the area. I’ve understudied at Round House Theatre and also Studio Theatre, so I’ve dabbled in professional acting, splitting my time between paid and unpaid gigs.”
It’s not easy for an actor to strike that balance between day job and theater gig, yet Murray feels supported on the D.C. theater scene. “A lot of theater companies are very understanding,” he said. “They know a lot of their actors have to pay the bills, or they have day jobs. Theater companies tend to be very accommodating to people who like to put food on the table!”
Especially so for talented performers with a proven track record and a passion for the stage. The passion for performing runs deep in Murray, who was born in D.C. and has lived most of his life in the Maryland suburbs, attending St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School in Rockville and Georgetown Prep before heading to the University of Maryland for a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film, with a minor in theater, and government and politics. He has built a career in the satellite telecommunications industry, sure, but his first love is acting.
“Since I was a kid, it was always a fun thing to do,” he recalled. “High school plays, acting classes in college: I just really felt like it was a great creative outlet, and a great way to find a community of friends.”
Many of his longtime friends, Murray said, have been people he met through theater, and although he admits that “balancing family life can be difficult,” his children, one in college, one in middle school, are following in his footsteps. “Both of them act as well,” he said. “It kind of runs in our family. I see their shows, they see mine, and we all go to the theater together.”
He has done community and professional theater, and everything in between, but his role in “The Mollusc” marks Murray’s first involvement with Quotidian. It is not, however, Quotidian’s first go-around with “The Mollusc.” Back in 2008, Quotidian — co-founded by Stephanie Mumford and “The Mollusc” Director Jack Sbarbori — staged the Edwardian comedy of manners to critical acclaim. Murray didn’t get to see that iteration, although he knows most of the actors who were in it back then. He has wanted to be part of the Quotidian family for a while, but it never really worked out until this show.
“That’s kind of how theater works,” he said. “People get to know each other, see each other’s work. When there are opportunities to audition, hopefully things work out.”
And “The Mollusc” worked out as soon as Sbarbori, Quotidian’s artistic director, sent Murray the script. “I was not familiar with the play at all, but it was very cleverly written,” he said. “Tom is a bit full of himself, a pleasant fellow but a braggart. He ends up being the guy you’re cheering for.”
Indeed, Murray’s character is freshly back from America, where he made his fortune, and he’s hoping to impose his newfound success on his family: Dulcie, her husband and their governess, who he would like to impress in a romantic way.
“It all wraps up in a bow,” said Murray. “Maybe a little too cleanly. Two hours of blissful entertainment, then back out into the 105-degree heat.”
Which sounds like a nice twist on this sultry Maryland summer.
Quotidian Theatre Company presents “The Mollusc” through Aug. 4 at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $35, $25 for seniors and $15 for students. Call 301-816-1023, email firstname.lastname@example.org or reserve tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4075017.