I've only spent about 24 hours of my life in Texas, and just about all of them were spent inside a hotel or at the DFW airport. But after spending just one hour with playwright/actor Molly Montgomery at her vivid and colorful solo show Snakes I Have Known, I feel as though I've done a good deal of time in the Lone Star State.
Snakes premiered last fall at United Solo, where it was chosen by curator Omar Sangare for inclusion in Indie Theater Now's collection of outstanding solo scripts from that edition of the festival. (You can see the play on Indie Theater Now here.) Now Montgomery and her director Jim Shankman have brought the show to FringeNYC, in the snug and intimate space at Jimmy's No. 43, where I think it will score a considerable success for its creator.
Montgomery is a lovely young woman with blonde hair and a lively, expressive face. The show is a series of vignettes about how she grew up in and eventually got out of Texas, a place that is apparently riddled with snakes of both the reptilian and human kind. The show feels more like a succession of (possibly tall) bar tales than the angsty confessional that too many one-woman shows turn out to be; it certainly gives us a gutsy and determined young heroine in Molly, who accompanies her dad and two older brothers on a hunting trip when she's just 11 years old, and later runs off alone to the Big Apple at the age of 16. Montgomery doesn't shy away from stuff that might distance us from her, like the fact that her family is kind of colossally rich or that she has done her share of stupid teenage things such as drinking 4 blue jello shooters in rapid succession at a friend's housewarming party. She's got a charming and sunny stage presence and she delivers all the stories about herself and her family, loaded with warts (and occasional venom), with such simplicity and matter-of-factness that whatever immaturity or unpleasantness might emerge from the telling doesn't stick to the assured and confident young woman we see before us. It's actually a pretty neat accomplishment.
I don't want to give too much of the details of Snakes away, but I will sketch a basic outline for you: the story begins with Molly's first encounter with snakes, at just six months, and moves through her childhood and teenage years. We meet her parents, her Italian NYC boyfriend Anthony, a lecherous doctor and a bible-thumping nurse at the local hospital, and most memorably Molly's grandmother, a formidable old girl who is called "Cuckoo" by her family (for good reason!). We learn about Molly's first abortive move to New York City and about the momentous Thanksgiving celebration that turned her life around.
Montgomery portrays all these characters (and her younger selves) with great aplomb. The staging is simple, with occasional costume changes to punctuate the scenes and just one principal prop—a big lighted sign bearing the word "Texas" that Montgomery switches on and off to help us keep track of where she is at each particular moment in the show.
Snakes I Have Known may not be for everyone, but it serves as an exciting introduction to a smart young writer/performer who we will likely hear much more from in the future.