Molly Katz plays many roles at Half Moon Theatre. One of the ten-year-old company’s founding members, she oversees its programs and productions as Executive Director. And that title means that on any given day, Molly might be playing the role of chief producer, chief negotiator, chief fundraiser, chief strategist, and, on some days, “chief cook and bottle washer,” she says with a laugh.
This spring, Molly has taken on yet another role – this time as an actor. She is playing the role of Diane Johnson in Half Moon’s production of CUL-DE-SAC, a new play by acclaimed playwright and Broadway star John Cariani, opening this Saturday, April 29. Molly’s longtime fans are thrilled; they have been waiting patiently for her return to Half Moon’s stage following her last roles in the radio play It’s a Wonderful Life and the musical Side by Side by Sondheim.
“I’m very excited to be in this play, and a little nervous, and incredibly grateful,” Molly says. “The only reason I can do this show is because the whole Half Moon team is willing to shoulder the extra work, and I really appreciate that.”
Molly talked thoughtfully and enthusiastically about the discoveries she has made in creating her character, Diane -- a suburban housewife caught in the downward spiral of a peculiarly intense midlife crisis. “She’s trying to define happiness -- what it means to her,” Molly explains. “She keeps asking: ‘Am I happy? And if this isn’t happiness, then what does happiness look like?’ Anyone who has been in a relationship will be able to relate to these feelings – that moment when you look at your partner and say: ‘What happened to the me that was happy and hopeful? When I first saw you, and you saw me, everything was possible.’ ”
The actor paused a moment and added: “How many of us feel that everything we want in life is still possible?”
Diane and the other characters in CUL-DE-SAC ultimately go to rather shocking lengths to find happiness – or at least, to appear happy. Writer John Cariani is well known for the unusual worlds he creates on stage, where the desires and actions and colors of his characters often drift outside the lines of normal. Molly notes that in this play, the three couples who lives next door to each other are frequently guilty of that biblical “sin.”
“And they’re so desperate in the way they covet what their neighbors have. Everyone in the play is struggling, and everyone has secrets."
“They covet,” Molly notes. “And they’re so desperate in the way they covet what their neighbors have. Everyone in the play is struggling, and everyone has secrets. Everyone is asking themselves, ‘How far am I willing to go to get what I want?’ That’s why this script is so funny. . .and also dark. . .and sometimes sad.”
Talk during rehearsals has often turned to “the extent to which human beings are private versus public,” Molly says. “We all have private versus public personas – and what we show to the world is not necessarily what is going on in our inner lives.”
She quoted a line spoken by one of the other characters in the play: Maybe if your life looks like what you want it to look like, it will become what you want it to be. “I wonder about that,” she said. “I read somewhere once that everyone has a happiness ‘set-point.’ No matter how successful you are and how many things you get, eventually you go back to whatever your happiness set-point is. I think that’s true.” No matter how happy we are, no matter how grateful we should be, “it’s in our nature to want what we don’t have. The challenge is keeping our darker forces, those uglier ambitions, in check. And that challenge is, in part, what I think John is looking at in this play.”
“it’s in our nature to want what we don’t have. The challenge is keeping our darker forces, those uglier ambitions, in check. And that challenge is, in part, what I think John is looking at in this play.”
Molly notes with pride that Half Moon Theatre was an early champion of John Cariani’s work, producing his first full-length play, ALMOST, MAINE, before it became a break-away hit in scores of theatres across the country. “We did that show at the Cunneen Hackett Arts Center and our audiences fell in love with it. . .it’s a magical play.”
She and Half Moon’s Managing Director Kristy Grimes got to know the playwright during that first production, “and we made it clear to John that we were interested in producing any play that he wrote.” John was happy to oblige and brought Half Moon a new script called LAST GAS. “We did a reading, and it was one of the best readings I have ever experienced,” Molly recalled. “What I loved about John was that after the reading, he asked the audience questions about the script and he really listened to the answers. He asked people: ‘Did you understand this bit? At what point did you realize A, B and C?’ He really wanted to hear from the audience members about their experiences with the play. I think that’s in part what makes him such a brilliant playwright. He’s not resistant, he really listens, and he works very hard.” Cariani’s LOVE/SICK was the first play produced in Half Moon’s Studio Theatre, the company’s first theatrical home, and it was another huge success with audiences as well as critics.
No wonder, then, that Half Moon Theatre’s Executive Director jumped at the chance to do Cariani’s CUL-DE-SAC this spring. “I was thrilled to have this opportunity to work with John again,” Molly said, and then laughed. “But in retrospect, it was maybe a little bit crazy to take on this role. I know my family thinks I was a little bit crazy!”
That’s because Molly plays other key roles – as the wife of a doctor, the mother of three children, caretaker of various animals (we won’t go into the details, but they are all very sweet), and an essential member of a large, lively and very busy extended family.
“It’s definitely challenging to wrap my brain around this complex character and to learn all of these lines while keeping up my responsibilities at Half Moon and running a household and raising three kids,” she admits. “People don’t always realize that I really do have to figure out how dinner will get on the table at the end of the day! In fact, right now my parents are cooking dinner! I’ve got people literally feeding my children just so I can do this play. I guess that means I’d better be good – no pressure, right?”
“When I warned my kids that my character is having a serious breakdown in this play, my daughter Charlotte said, ‘So? How’s that different than any other day?”
How do her children feel about their mother taking the stage this weekend in CUL-DE-SAC? “I just hope they won’t be embarrassed,” Molly answers. “When I warned my kids that my character is having a serious breakdown in this play, my daughter Charlotte said, ‘So? How’s that different than any other day?”
Molly laughs at the memory, and immediately gives her family a huge tip of the hat. “All joking aside: My family is the greatest. They’ve all been running lines with me for weeks, including my husband. They’re very supportive, and I’m very lucky. And grateful.”