Molly Conole claims she’s created a one-woman show, but don’t you believe it. Conole, the talented, charming, and ubiquitous singer in the Island’s musical scene, won’t be alone onstage. She’s managed to clone herself, so her audiences will be getting 2-for-1 Molly.
“Seaglass, Quilts & Song: Life in Pieces,” Conole’s musical roman à clef, featuring Conole herself and her electronic alter ego in the form of a looping machine. “A what?” you say. I did too. Fortunately, the ingenious Conole explained it all to me. “Looping. It’s so cool,” she said. “It’s a fabulous tool that allows me to sing something live onstage that gets recorded right then and there. Then I instantly play back the recording, harmonizing along to the recording, adding more and more layers as we go. The machine is my scene partner.”
Conole’s explanation is pretty good, but going along with the dictum “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” check out “Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon Lion Sleeps” on YouTube, and all will be revealed.
Conole, in creating “Seaglass,” has sensibly followed the advice of Mark Twain, as in “write what you know.” Conole and her husband Bob Dutton, now the M.V. Film Center’s theater manager, moved to Orlando at a time when it was known as “Hollywood East.” Both had busy theatrical careers there while raising their two kids. Eventually the couple found the Orlando theater scene less than vibrant, and decided to head back to the Vineyard, where both had longtime connections. Along the way, the initial genesis for “Seaglass” had been cooking in Conole’s imagination — cooking for about 20 years, loosely based on images of seaglass and the twists and turns of her career and family life.
Many artists talk about the need, not desire, to create specific works, and that’s the case with Conole’s “Seaglass.” Recently, that need came roaring to the front of the right side of her brain, and voilà! “Seaglass” was born. Working with Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo, Conole has fashioned her theatrical autobiography into a series of vignettes, built in “pieces” of monologue, song, and loop, loop, loop, and back to monologue, song, loop, loop, loop.
“Molly is the consummate solo-show performer,” says Bruder Munafo, who is directing “Seaglass.” “She can do it all! She composes music, writes songs, and sings like a dream. She is a committed professional on stage. Her performance is deeply personal, brave, and full of her strong spirit shining brightly.” Not a bad start for a collaboration between Conole and Bruder Munafo.
When a new play gets written, the director is often key to the process. The director works with the playwright, shaping the piece as it gets put on its feet, paying particular attention to the unique voice of the author, the pacing, and formal consistency. Conole, as the book writer, composer, lyricist, and only performer, is thrilled to have been invited to be part of the Playhouse’s “Spring Solo Shows,” and in particular to get the chance to work with Bruder Munafo.
Conole has organized “Seaglass” between scripted text and sung interludes. She transitions from text into song when she wants emotion to take over from narrative. She laughs when discussing the musical style of the show, saying, “It’s sort of like my life stylistically. Lots of different directions.” Which is not to say it’s a muddle, but built upon a strong through-line, contrast and surprise, like any good story.
Conole is no stranger to composing, having written music, lyrics, and books for musical revues and many other types of performances. Able to sing on pitch from the age of 13 months — that’s 13 months, not years — she’s sung opera, light opera, the American songbook, and lots and lots of musical theater. On the Island, she’s recently created and sung in the Playhouse’s Wicked Good Musical Revues, as the classical soloist in a work by Phil Dietterich for the M.V. Chamber Music Society, Thomas LaVoy’s recent commission for Island Community Chorus, and as Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance” with Island Theatre Workshop. All of this experience adds a rich vocabulary upon which to draw from, that, mixed with Canole’s imagination, has culminated in “Seaglass.”
Conole’s work is supported by the Playhouse’s production, and a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council. Wendy Weldon, a current member on the grant award selection committee, says, “The MVCC bases their grant-giving decisions on 15 guidelines and criteria, including the applicant’s proposal needing to fit into one of three categories: the arts, the humanities, or the interpretive sciences. In addition, the proposed project needs to serve our year-round community. Molly’s proposal, with its unique looping structure, was most intriguing, and along with her own proven high artistic standards, easily met our guidelines.”
Conole’s favorite musical is the traditional “The Sound of Music,” and her favorite playwright is the absurdist Christopher Durang, an amusing paradox of preferences that we’ll see and hear quilted together in “Seaglass,” à la Conole and her scene partner, Ms. Loop.
“Seaglass, Quilts & Song: Life in Pieces,” book, music, lyrics, and performance by Molly Conole, directed by MJ Bruder Munafo. M.V. Playhouse, Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, 7:30 pm. The 90-minute show is performed without intermission. Visit mvplayhouse.org or call 508-696-6300.