A Q&A with the TCU grads behind the sassy new Victorian comedy at Amphibian Stage
There's something special happening at Amphibian Stage right now. It's the world premiere of the play Miss Molly (A Marital Deceit of Honest Intentions), written by Christine Carmela and directed by Evan Michael Woods, TCU alumni who were roommates back in the day.
Since graduating, Carmela made her Off-Broadway debut at SoHo Repertory Theatre and has accrued 6.4 million likes on TikTok, all while gaining her master's in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. While Woods is known as a multidisciplinary theater artist in DFW, Miss Molly marks his directorial debut.
Carmela also stars as Molly Houseington, with Logan Graye (Genevieve Houseington), Brayden Raqueño (Aloysius Thurston), and Luke Atkison (lighting designer) making up the rest of the TCU grads involved in Miss Molly. The remainder of the cast includes Parker Gray (Matthias Manley), Laurel Collins (Baroness Ella Manley), Shannon McGrann (Baroness Bertha Thurston), and Emily Scott Banks (Viscountess Petunia Houseington).
Miss Molly is an homage to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, offering the same humor and charm of Wilde’s work while incorporating modern references and exploring queer themes. It’s 1889 London, darling, where the only game in town is the pursuit of the perfect partner. Lifelong friends Matthias and Aloysius are convinced they’ve struck gold with the dazzling sisters, Molly and Genevieve. The stage is set for a perfect match…or is it? Enter the ever-discerning Viscountess Houseington, who detects a whiff of something fruity surrounding her daughter’s potential suitors, not to mention the boys’ formidable mothers are determined to put their future in-laws through the ultimate test.
CultureMap recently caught up with Carmela and Woods to discuss the play's history, its importance to queer theater, their friendship, and why Fort Worth will always be their artistic home.
CultureMap: Where did the inspiration for Miss Molly come from?
Christine Carmela: It all started when I first discovered the absurd brilliance of Oscar Wilde in high school, when tasked to read The Importance of Being Earnest for a class. I was immediately obsessed. His irreverence. His social commentary. His epigrams. His dialogue. His shameless self inserts. It was all so eye-opening, life-changing, and unbelievably queer. It was not overtly queer, as that was not allowed in his time, but I instinctively knew.
Fast forward to college, where I had begun to take writing seriously, when in the span of a year I watched two brilliant productions of Wilde's plays, which allowed my obsession to be reignited. The vision was to write something that felt vaguely like him (with half his genius), while showcasing a queerness he wasn't allowed to show in his writing, in his time. I dreamed of honoring the lighthearted whimsy of Wilde's plays whilst also honoring the struggle that came with being queer in Wilde's time.
CM: Was there any sort of workshopping prior to this production at Amphibian Stage?
CC:Miss Molly has been through several iterations. I wrote the first draft five years ago. Did a reading. Wrote a second draft. Had a Zoom production of it at my alma mater. Wrote a third draft. I even briefly adapted it into a screenplay. But then came back to the play and wrote a fourth draft.
When Amphibian was gracious enough to pick it up for their season, we came to an agreement that I would embark on writing an overhaul of a fifth draft. That draft was worked on for a whole nine months leading up to the beginning of rehearsals with the help of my director and dear friend, Evan Michael Woods. And even then, in the first two weeks of rehearsal, there were countless tweaks and adjustments made. I had a writing mentor that gave me the genius advice that a script is never done, a deadline is simply met. I now live by that. But this version of Miss Molly is one I couldn't be more proud of.
Evan Michael Woods: Christine, separate from the TCU theater department, hosted a reading of Miss Molly at TCU in 2018. The next academic year, Theatre TCU scheduled a student-directed and designed production of Miss Molly for March of 2020. Due to the onset of the pandemic, this live production was translated into a digitally recorded production with actors on green screens.
After Christine and I found out that Miss Molly was chosen for production in October of 2022, we spent the next eight months working through rewrites. Briefly before rehearsals started we brought on Haley Nelson, a dramaturg, to help aid the final stages of development.
CM: How did Miss Molly come to be part of Amphibian's mainstage season?
EMW: In early fall of 2022, the leadership at Amphibian Stage was beginning to hone in on the 2023 season. [Co-artistic directors] Kathleen Culebro and Jay Duffer were not finding a big summer comedy that they were happy with; especially not one they hadn’t already seen elsewhere a hundred times over.
I had already pitched Miss Molly before but this seemed like the perfect window of opportunity. After discussions with Christine and Amphibian Stage leadership about how the play was going to evolve between selection and production, Miss Molly was a go.
CM: Christine, what has it been like starring in the world premiere of your own show?
CC: My biggest dream and career ambition has always been to write and star in my own work. To be my own Tina Fey, my own Lin Manuel Miranda, if you will. I was told very early on in my career that if the roles you want are not out there, write them. I took that violently to heart and I am finally getting to live my dream. It has been the most artistically fulfilling experience of my life.
Was it exhausting? Yes. Were a few sleepless nights had? Yes. Did my brain get occasionally overwhelmed flipping back and forth between acting and writing? Yes. But who am I to complain? It has been endlessly rewarding. I only wish to continue doing it.
CM: Evan, what has it been like making your directorial debut in general?
EMW: Directing Miss Molly has been the biggest challenge of my career; it’s also been the most rewarding project of my career. I come to this project as a first-time director but an experienced theater artist in various fields (acting, designing, producing, marketing). Directing requires insight into all aspects of production and it has been so fulfilling to really use all of those theater muscles in unison toward one goal.
I have never put more of myself into a project, and therefore…it is unlike anything else to have other people watch your work! My mom always told me that when she watched me perform she got so nervous for me she would hold her breath while I was onstage. I always considered this sweet but very silly. Now I understand that feeling.
Miss Molly is the first play that I had a strong vision for on the stage; it’s the first play that scratched my director's brain. To make my debut on this play feels surreal to say the least.
I’m so grateful for the trust that Christine, the cast, the creative team, and Amphibian Stage put in me. I hope I’ve made good on my promise.
CM: What has it been like working with a longtime friend?
CC: Working with the Evan Michael Woods has been nothing short of a dream. He has been endlessly collaborative and supportive. He has been such a champion of my work for so long. It only feels right for my playwriting debut to be helmed by him. It also helps that he happens to be a brilliant director. I have remained in a constant state of awe of him the entire process. It's his debut, as well as mine, and having a confidante that understands the pressure of it all has been nothing short of vital and reassuring. I assume it will be happening again, and I can't wait.
EMW: It’s been such a gift. When Christine and I went separate ways after college I assumed our days of collaborating together were mostly over. It was almost hard to wrap my brain around the idea that we’d be spending three months together turning this play into reality.
Christine is such a brilliant mind who has created something big, athletic, and dynamic. It’s a big play with big asks and there were certainly times in the rehearsal process where I thought “man, you really didn’t start small for your first rodeo!” Christine never made me feel like it was my first rodeo. She believed in me during this process when I didn’t believe myself. I truly believe we make a good team. We bring out each other’s strengths.
CM: What has been your favorite part of this process?
CC: Without question, my favorite part of this process has been getting to know the entire creative team and seeing what they bring to the table. Every single person that has been involved in this process has been endlessly talented.
Writing can be so internal, but seeing everyone work on this play, externally, in real life, has been nothing short of astounding. Like in any collaborative process, genius spurs genius. Their creative genius has helped me realize things about my own work, and I am eternally grateful. I could write a novel listing my praises for everyone involved, but I've been told we don't have the word count. So for now, thank you.
EMW: Oh my god. All of it.
I love building the world of a play, so developing how Miss Molly looks and sounds was such a treat. The designers on this show were simply top notch.
Seeing the cast take the play and my vision well past what I could have ever imagined.
Watching opening night with a sold-out crowd and watching them take every twisty turn and sudden drop was such an unbelievable feeling. To realize that we really had made the thing, and that people had come to see it, and those people were so enraptured and moved by the play.
So…yes. All of it.
CM: Any plans for the play after it ends its Amphibian run?
CC: Nothing is — for sure — on the docket for the future of Miss Molly (A Marital Deceit of Honest Intentions). But despite me repeatedly thinking Miss Molly was done for, she's still kicking after five years. I have a running joke with my friends that you couldn't kill Miss Molly if you tried. So we'll see how she comes back to life again next. I trust she will.
EMW: That’s Molly’s secret — and a lady never tells
Miss Molly (A Marital Deceit of Honest Intentions) runs through August 13 at Amphibian Stage. Purchase tickets here or by calling 817-923-3012.