New Jersey Repertory Co. launches its summer season with “Ten Percent of Molly Snyder,” a manic comedy by Richard Strand that manages to survive on one long joke thanks to actors who mine the humor with expansive comic flair. But while it’s keenly staged by artistic director SuzAnne Barabas, the two-hander struggles to rise above its repetitious concept.
The situation is an extension of the classic Ziegfeld Follies skit “Pay the Two Dollars,” filmed in 1946 with Victor Moore and Edward Arnold. Under the advice of a lawyer, a $2 fine for a minor offence escalates to a death sentence for a hapless innocent offender. Strand has stretched an old eight-minute joke into an 85-minute play.
This time around, fledgling artist Molly Snyder (Stephanie Dorian) pays a visit to her local motor vehicle agency to correct a misprinted address. The inevitable red tape leads to a newspaper publication of her obituary, the sale of her house and, consequently, escalating sales for her paintings.
She is thwarted at every turn by the foolish conventions of a bureaucratic maze that even culminates in the Oval Office on the eve of her execution to beg for a pardon from the president.
Michael Irvin Pollard plays an indifferent motor vehicle agent, a dithery newspaper editor, a female bank executive, an art agent and an African-American U.S. president without any alteration in appearance or wardrobe. He defines the goofy characterizations with zest, despite the obvious repetition of circumstances.
Dorian runs the gamut from a meek public citizen with a minor complaint to a wildly frustrated victim of circumstance. She is at best valiant in a one-dimensional role.
Barabas has fueled her actors with a sense of urgency and paced the action with rushed comic fury. Strand’s final scene, featuring a faulty electric chair, is a broad comic device that doesn’t quite work.
Tech effects are acceptable, with a blandly cold office setting framed by a sharply defined lighting design.