Something is rotten in the home of Mrs. Hubbard. At first it seems messy children are the problem plaguing the exasperated title character of Mark Jay Mirsky’s absurdist, playful black comedy. Mrs. Hubbard is a plainspoken housewife played by Jennifer Bayly with a sly smile shifting beneath her weariness. Early in the production, a woman in nurse whites (given an expertly evasive manner by Jill Helene) shows up asking about “Filthy Child” and her brother, and Mrs. Hubbard lists all the cleaning she’s had to do. Then a foul cursing booms down from upstairs, the last syllables drowned out by a recording of the opening chord from Beethoven’s Fifth. The filth must be metaphorical, the audience thinks.
Ophelia and Fortinbras, the siblings in question, are played with a wicked glee by Lynn Mancinelli and Israel Mirsky. They do use dirty language, but when they enter it’s clear that they are not children but immature twentysomethings. The audience has been misled in another way too: the real problem is evidently Mr. Hubbard, described as a despicable rodent who is in hiding and should be exterminated. This is where the visitor in whites comes in: she is actually a representative from the pest control company the children have called. Mrs. Hubbard is soon on board with the plot as her anger toward her husband outweighs her irritation with her immature children.
Unfortunately for the children, their plot does not unfold according to plan, setting up gruesome ends that will not surprise anyone who recognizes the children’s names from Hamlet. And when the audience finally meets Mr. Hubbard (Jeremy Johnson), a kindly-looking old man toting a leather-bound Shakesepeare folio, it feels as though it has been steered wrong yet again. He claims he absented himself from the family merely because he wanted some privacy and quiet. Having met his wife and children, it’s hard to blame him. So what’s going on?
Mirsky’s writing is precise and vivid (one passage when Mrs. Hubbard remembers her mouth being washed out as a child is especially memorable), but the story’s meaning is stubbornly elusive. The uncertainty is even written into the script, since Mr. Hubbard addresses the audience to ask with whom it will side. Viewers who prefer endings to be wrapped up neatly will be turned off by this aspect of Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, in spite of the strong acting and tight staging. However, the production's many open questions will please those who enjoy puzzles.