Molly's Rock | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Molly's Rock, Raven Theatre, at North Park Village. On opening night director Frank Merle unintentionally set exactly the right tone for his tiny outdoor production. Dressed in Civil War-era garb, he hopped up onto the show's set, a six-foot-high boulder tucked away in a corner of North Park Village, and attempted to welcome the audience--only to be drowned out by the first of many low-flying jets. Rather than ignore the anachronistic intrusion into his fictional world, he shook a defiant fist at the aircraft, acknowledging the inherent silliness of trying to pretend it's 1867 under a flight path to O'Hare.

Outdoor theater always benefits from such candor; the effort wasted denying the existence of car horns, screaming children, gawking pedestrians, and swarming mosquitoes turns make-believe dishonest. Unfortunately, Merle's cast members do everything they can to push the real world away, making for a decidedly noncredible 80-minute show. It doesn't help that Kenneth Robbins's script--based on the legend of Molly's Rock, a South Carolina granite outcropping where from time to time the ghost of a young woman greets visitors--has credibility problems of its own. Before she dies, Robbins's Molly seems to have nothing to do except stand atop a rock and wave to people, three of whom--the Preacher, the Poacher, and the Peddler--converge on the site by accident a few months after her unexplained death. Each tells the story of his meeting with her, providing three very different portraits in what should be a Rashomon-like tale. But the three characters seem shoehorned together for sheer convenience, and the solution to Robbins's murder mystery is clear before 20 minutes have elapsed.

The cast have earnest exuberance to spare, but they never seem at ease performing a few feet in front of a semicircle of picnic benches with an access road for a backdrop. They overcompensate with broad acting, making an already creaky story seem positively hokey.

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