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Widower fails at controlling daughters in ‘Hobson’s Choice” at Quotidian

Hobsons ChoiceStephanie Mumford costumes Rebecca Ellis and Matt Baughman for "Hobson’s Choice." COURTESY PHOTO BY BILL HURLBUT  What do you call a take-it-or-leave it proposition that really offers no choice at all?

A “Hobson’s Choice.”

That’s also the title of a play by Harold Brighouse (and several movie versions – one of which starred Charles Laughton) about an authoritarian English widower and his self-made success as a cobbler, who tries to pressure his three daughters to stay with him and under his thumb. A clash of wills ensues when his daughters, especially the eldest, Maggie, push back; they’re determined to leave home and get married.

“Hobson’s Choice” is a romantic comedy – with a bit of a less-ominous “King Lear” thrown in – in an upcoming production from Quotidian Theatre Company.

“Charles, the protagonist, is instantly recognizable,” said Andrew Walker-White, who portrays him. “He’s very male-oriented, and has no idea what to do with women. He’s also drunk much of the time. He’ll go off on a rage and not remember a word after. But he does care about his girls.”

David Dubov, production director, staged his own one-act-show at Silver Spring Stage a few years ago. But “Hobson’s Choice” marks his directorial debut with a full-length play – and one with the additional challenge of a large 11-member cast.

Dubov has also performed in a number of shows at Quotidian, including “The Night Alive” and “A Lesson from Aloes,” and will appear in the upcoming “An Irish Twist on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“I’ve learned quite a bit from those directors I’ve observed over the years and I hope to make them proud,” Dubov said.

Having performed in a shortened version of “Hobson’s Choice” about six years ago, he knew he’d like to direct the work eventually, but said he needed the support QTC was willing to provide to “pull it off.”

“The play is one of those forgotten gems that is so rarely produced, and that’s a shame,” Dubov said. “It’s very funny, quick-paced and is really quite incisive, believe it or not, about the movement of society (in Great Britain at least) from a rigidly class-stratified structure to one that was much more egalitarian.”

To have that movement represented by strong, intelligent, independent women “is even more remarkable,” said Dubov. “Brighouse wrote the play in 1916, before women even gained the right to vote in England, and he makes no bones about who is the driving force behind the great changes going on. It’s all neatly pointed up by witty dialogue and physical comedy. Who wouldn’t want to direct such a great piece?”

Although he devoted some of his time to raising a child and pursuing academic degrees – he’s now a cultural historian with a doctorate in theatre history and performance studies – Walker White kept his hand in theater and was pleased to win the part of Charles.

It probably helped that he had visited Manchester, near Salford, where the playwright grew up. 

“It’s a very radical part of England, home to many progressive movements; there’s not only a People’s History museum there, but also a Working Class Movement Library,” the actor said.

Another asset Walker-White brought to the role of Charles was his skill at acting in dialect.

“Half the fun in the play is the language, which is hilarious,” he said.

For all the humor and Charles’ misogyny, he becomes dependent on his daughters – played by Rebecca Ellis, Meredith Richard, and Carolyn Kashner – and “falls apart” when they leave him, Walker-White said.

That could be another statement about the strength of women.
“Hobson’s Choice” runs Feb. 16 through March 11 at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. For more information and tickets, call 1-800-838-3006, ext. 1 or visit www.quotidiantheatre.org.  

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