“Molly Daughter” by Deborah Randall Retells a Shameful Chapter in American Labor History

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

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

The Justice Theater Project will present Molly Daughter, a new play written by Venus Theatre artistic director Deborah Randall of Laurel, MD, with music by Alan Scott, on Feb. 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of Saint Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, NC. Randall’s first play about the Molly MaguiresAre You a Daughter of Molly Maguire? — was premiered in June 2006 at the Venus Theatre.

(Note: The Molly Maguires were a secret post-Civil War Irish-American group, composed mostly of miners from Pennsylvania’s anthracite coalfields. The arrests, trials, convictions, and hangings of its members in 1876-78 were part of a particularly shameful chapter in the history of the American labor union movement.)

According to the Venus Theatre’s website:

“[Molly Daughter dramatist] Deborah Randall’s project on the Molly Maguires took a bold risk and posed a new historical theory by talking about the massacre at Wiggan’s Patch[, PA] in 1875, which preceded the legal execution of 20 Irish men in 1877. The theory posed says that the illegal killing of a multi-generational family of miners at Wiggan’s led to a publicly funding ethnic cleansing in Panther Valley, PA, the home of perhaps the most precious resource of all, anthracite coal.

“Before women had the right to vote, Venus [Theatre] posed the question, how did they survive, raise families, and thrive, when the bread winning and politically powered men were executed? This theory had often been discussed with a short paragraph in a text entitled, ‘Making Sense of the Molly Maguries’ but never before printed at length or spoken in a public forum. The play become published and is taught at Penn State today.”

Director Carnessa Ottelin, who is staging Molly Daughter for The Justice Theater Project, remembers, I first heard about this show in a conversation with David Henderson, an incredible actor and good friend of mine and Justice Theater Project. I then received a phone call from [Justice Theater Project artistic director] Deb [Royals-Mizerk] asking if I would direct.

“I had not heard of Molly Daughter or the Molly Maguires,” Ottelin confesses, “so I had some research to do. At that point in time, we thought it would be a one-woman show, with Deb [Royals-Mizerk] playing all the parts, with Coty [Cockrell] as our music director, and [with] Keval [Kaur Khalsa] as our choreographer.”

She notes, “Our concept evolved into including Renee [Wimberley] and Alison [Lawrence], creating one of the strongest ensembles pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure to direct and witness. Everyone has contributed creative ideas and solutions. It’s been a lovely process and I’m thrilled for our opening on Friday[, Feb. 10th]!

Ottelin says, “I think casting is 95 percent of a successful show. Casting for me extends into the production team. The performance ensemble of Deb [Royals-Mizerk], Renee [Wimberley], and Alison [Lawrence] is absolute, perfect charisma. Coty [Cockrell] (on piano) and Jason Hedrick (on bass) come together as our beautiful band.

“Our production team of Coty [Cockrell] as musical director; Jason Hassell as stage manager; Tom Wolf with sets and lights; and Melissa Zeph, our managing director is — again — absolute perfect charisma. The story of the Molly Maguires initially made me want to direct it, but I quickly realized the people would also be crux of the magic.”

Melissa Zeph notes, “The Molly Maguires were the secret society of coal miners who battled against the exploitation of the mine owners. Molly Daughter gives you a glimpse into the women’s stories – [as told by] the wives, mothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren of the men who were sent to jail and paid the ultimate price for their fight against exploitation and greed.”

Zeph adds, “Deb Royals-Mizerk plays Maeve, our contemporary narrator. Renee Wimberley plays an 18-year-old pregnant woman named Ellen, Maeve’s grandmother Nanny, and a woman named Mary, whose husband is building the gallows for his own hanging. Alison Lawrence plays Ellen’s mother, Granny Margaret, who has lost several children to the violence surrounding the Molly Maguire conflict, [as well as] Mary’s neighbor Mrs. Jones.”

The complete Justice Theater Project creative team for Molly Daughter includes director Carnessa Ottelin, choreographer Keval Kaur Khalsa, musical director Coty Cockrell, technical director and set and lighting designer Tom Wolf, costume designer Nora Murphy, and stage manager Jason Hassell. Wolf also serves as the production’s properties manager and sound designer; and the show features musical arrangement by Coty Cockrell, based on original music by Alan Scott.

Director Carnessa Ottelin says, “The set consists of three platforms with a single object on each — a bench, a rocking chair, and a weathered, hollow tree stump. As the lighting design moves us from present to memory, the objects take on a life of their own, representing trials and triumphs. A screen serves as the backdrop for images supporting the story of the Molly Maguires and the people who lost their life in the struggle for justice.”

Set designer Tom Wolf adds, “Maeve’s journeys take us to a number of places: graveyards, houses, jail cells, and even a modern-day pub. The multilayer set gives the cast places to own for each of their destinations. The focus of the stage is a prominent, hollow tree trunk that has grown up through the gravesite: representative of the family tree that Maeve discovers. In addition, the theater venue brings the audience into the very feeling of coal mining towns of the late 1800s, with a symbolic mine shaft entrance they enter through.”

Wolf adds, “The story takes place in two different eras: Maeve’s search in present time and the revealing of the story as it happened 150 years ago. The lighting reflects these two timeframes: shadowy down-lighting for the past and a warmer, more contemporary look for the present. The overall color palette is neutral: this is a coal mining town. Yet splashes of color are used to highlights to bright moments in Maeve’s journey.

“Video projections also play a large part in the play: the way we see the people that have lived in the past and that Maeve has found in her research,” Wolf explains. “Projections even are used to wash the stage floor itself, to take us into the graveyard and the jail cell.”

Director Carnessa Ottelin adds, “The costumes are taken from the late 1800s. The everyday wear of these Irish immigrants was simple, durable, sensible clothing made out of wools, heavy cottons, and linen. The women were not wealthy, but honorable and proud, so they paid attention to details, such as ribbon, buttons, hats, and gloves.

“The current-day Maeve has the sensible roots of her ancestry and is dressed in simple travel wear,” notes Ottelin. “Fashion is not her priority, there is a much bigger and more important focus in her life.”

The Justice Theater Project presents MOLLY DAUGHTER at 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11, 2 p.m.  Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Feb. 17 and 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 $10 2 p.m.  Feb. 11th and $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: There will be a complimentary opening-night reception after the  Feb. 10th performance, sponsored by the Trálí Irish Pub & Restaurant (http://traliirishpub.com/) in Brierdale Shopping Center in north Raleigh.

NOTE 2: 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 3: 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 5: 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 6: 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).


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 preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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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).