Through March 11
Quotidian Theatre Company
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda
David Dubov has been acting for 40 years. It’s what he studied in school and it’s his passion. But now he’s shaking up things a bit by making his directorial debut with an old, seemingly quaint, seldom performed, four-act play with a cast of 11 — not an obvious choice for a novice.
“It’s been in the back of my mind that I might try directing for a while,” says Dubov, 57. “It happens with some actors as we find ourselves aging out of parts. There are fewer roles for older actors so we look toward other things.”
Not long after rereading “Hobson’s Choice,” Harold Brighouse’s 1916 comedy about a bad-tempered bootmaker who must choose whether to keep his three daughters at the shop and unmarried or lost them to their sweethearts, Dubov knew he’d found the play he wanted to direct. So, he pitched his idea to Quotidian Theatre Company, his artistic home located at the Writer’s Center on a quiet side street in Bethesda. While the company’s artistic director Jack Sbarbori responded positively, he was curious if the first-time director was prepared for the unwieldy challenge. Dubov assured him he was.
“Well, I know from the actor’s side what a director is supposed to do. Still, I was nervous going into it,” Dubov says. “But once in the rehearsal room those fears melted away. I can speak to actors in their language. I know character development, blocking, business on stage and props. The hard part was doing things I’d never done before like working with sound, lights, costumes and the logistics involved in managing a large cast — scheduling rehearsals for instance. But to my great delight, it’s all come together.”
In mellifluous tones, Dubov gives the gist of the play’s history: Written in 1916 during World War I just prior to the enactment of suffrage rights for women in the United Kingdom, the work reflects seismic social change. Henry Hobson represents the old order, standing for queen and country, whereas his daughters are modern and ready to take their lives into their own hands. When ‘Hobson’s Choice’ opened, it was appreciated as a realistic portrayal of real people and not Victorian melodrama set in a London drawing room. And more importantly, it was a smash hit.
Affairs with theater are often long and winding things. Dubov’s has been no exception. A native of Austin, Texas, he learned to play cello at 8. Following their desire to live abroad, Dubov’s parents moved the family to England where 16-year-old Dubov was dragooned into taking a part in an operetta at his all-boys school. He was smitten and thereafter performed every chance he could. He later spent four halcyon years earning a drama degree at Bennington College in Vermont.
After graduating, he returned to Austin where he met his husband while they were both acting in a production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.” The couple (together 33 years, married almost five) then moved to Hollywood: “I got an agent but wasn’t getting cast,” Dubov says, “so I decided to focus on doing other things and enjoying the city and took a 15-year hiatus from acting altogether.”
Next, they headed to D.C. for Dubov’s current I.T. job with a transportation association. At a coworker’s request, Dubov dusted off his cello and joined the Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s orchestra in Rockville. He remembers sitting in the pit one night watching the people up on stage and thinking he could do that again.
Soon after Dubov began acting at various spots around town before focusing almost exclusively on Quotidian, where he’s a company member. His past shows at Quotidian include “The Lady with the Little Dog,” “A Lesson from Aloes,” “James Joyce’s The Dead,” “Dancing at Lughnasa,” “The Cherry Orchard,” among others. This summer he’s tackling Bottom in the company’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Despite wide familiarity with the popular phrase “Hobson’s choice,” which really means no choice at all, most theatergoers haven’t seen the play since it’s rarely performed. If they know the story, it’s mainly due to David Lean’s 1954 film version featuring bi actor Charles Laughton as Hobson, and a baby-faced Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers) as his youngest daughter.
“‘Hobson’s Choice’ has a lot to say,” Dubov says. “And I’m sure because it’s a play that’s rarely performed, audiences will find something absolutely new in it.”