JTP’s Multimedia Presentation of “Molly Daughter” Is a Cry from the Heart, But Sometimes Hard to Follow

The "Molly Daughter" cast includes (from left) Deb Royals-Mizerk, Renée Wimberley, and Alison Lawrence (photo by Coty Cockrell)
The "Molly Daughter" cast includes (from left) Deb Royals-Mizerk, Renée Wimberley, and Alison Lawrence (photo by Coty Cockrell)

The "Molly Daughter" cast includes (from left) Deb Royals-Mizerk, Renée Wimberley, and Alison Lawrence (photo by Coty Cockrell)
The "Molly Daughter" cast includes (from left) Deb Royals-Mizerk, Renée Wimberley, and Alison Lawrence (photo by Coty Cockrell)

The Justice Theater Project’s expressionistic multimedia presentation of Maryland playwright Deborah Randall’s historical drama, Molly Daughter, with original music by Alan Scott, is moving. Based on events that took place between 1875 and 1879 in the coal fields of neighboring Pennsylvania, the play flashes backwards and forwards in time as it retells the tangled tale of the Wiggans Patch Massacre in story and song, while The Justice Theater Project creative team employs rear-screen projections of the place and the people involved, with lines from the “Hail Mary” superimposed over the photographs to underscore the Irish Catholic religion of the massacre victims.

Justice Theater Project artistic director Deb Royals-Mizerk eloquently narrates Molly Daughter as Maeve, a fictional present-day singer and storyteller who revisits Wiggans Patch, where bullet holes in the walls testify to the tsunami of violence unleashed there, starting at approximately 3 a.m. on Dec. 10, 1875, when a group of more than two dozen armed and masked men invaded the O’Donnell-McAllister household and murdered Charles O’Donnell and his pregnant sister Ellen O’Donnell McAllister. O’Donnell was suspected of involvement with a secretive Irish-American group called the Molly Maguire, comprised mostly of miners advocating safer working conditions and better treatment of workers. McAllister was slain accidentally.

Afterwards, the Pennsylvania criminal justice system showed little interest in bringing the killers of McAllister and O’Donnell to justice. Instead, it railroaded a number of Irish immigrant coal miners, suspected of being members of the Molly Maguires, to the gallows.

In story and song, Maeve resurrects the victims of that terrible injustice, who are portrayed with brio by Renee Wimberley and Alison Lawrence. Wimberley plays Wiggans Patch Massacre victim Ellen and a woman named Mary, whose husband is compelled to build his own gallows, as well as Maeve’s grandmother Nanny; and Lawrence impersonates Ellen McAllister’s mother, Granny Margaret O’Donnell, fiercely scrubbing away the blood stains on the floor of her home, as well as Mary’s neighbor Mrs. Jones.

In giving a voice to the heretofore voiceless — the mothers, wives, and sweethearts of the suspected Molly Maguires — dramatist Deborah Randall plows new ground; and Justice Theater Project director Carnessa Ottelin elicits crisp characterizations from her three actresses, two of whom give distinctive personalities to each of their multiple roles. Scenic designer Tom Wolf and costume designer Nora Murphy provide a splendid set and period costumes; and Deb Royals-Mizerk, Renée Wimberley, and Alison Lawrence make all of these women unforgettable — if at times indistinguishable — characters. The songs that they and musical director Coty Cockrell sing are also moving cries from the heart; but in the end, Molly Daughter has too many women to keep them all straight, let alone remember which are which.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 15th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/justice-theater-projects-molly-daughter/Content?oid=2816285. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 10th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/02/molly-daughter-by-deborah-randall-retells-a-shameful-chapter-in-american-labor-history/.)

The Justice Theater Project presents MOLLY DAUGHTER at 8 p.m. Feb. 18, 2 p.m. Feb. 19, 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25, and 2 p.m. Feb. 26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.

TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and seniors), except $12 for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919/264-7089, marketing@thejusticetheaterproject.org, or http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/venueSearch.jsp?venue_id=7353.

SHOW: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/productions/production_detail/149/.

SEASON: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/productions/.

PRESENTER: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/.

VENUE: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/mapsandphotos.

NOTE 1: At 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18th, there will be preshow discussion with labor history specialist Dr. David Zonderman, who will explore the history of working conditions yesterday and today.

NOTE 2: On Feb. 19th, there will be a 1:30 p.m. preshow discussion on “The Gospel at Work,” with Frank Lescko, Saint Francis of Assisi coordinator of justice and peace, who will describe the Catholic Churches’ history and beliefs on the sanctity of work as a natural human right. SEED Raleigh (http://www.Seedraleigh.org/) will provide FREE babysitting, but reservations required.

NOTE 3: At 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 24th, there will be a preshow discussion with NC WARN (http://www.ncwarn.org/) about this country’s past and present reliance on coal and the related costs to society and the environment.

NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Feb. 26th performance.


Molly Maguires: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Maguires (Wikipedia).

Wiggans Patch: http://www.freewebs.com/wigganspatch/ (website created by Loretta Murphy).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).