Molly Brennan Takes on Harpo Marx

Molly Brennan

Everybody asks about the tattoos. “Everybody,” stresses Molly Brennan, the heavily inked artist tapped to play the Professor—the Harpo Marx role—in the Goodman Theatre’s much-buzzed-about staging of Animal Crackers.

The daughter of a retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge and a retired high school theatre instructor is a walking gallery: Covering more than half of Brennan’s skin are elaborate illustrations of warriors, dragons, and characters she’s played with such off-Loop treasures as Barrel of Monkeys, Factory Theatre, Lookingglass, and 500 Clown.

“They’re my jewelry,” she says. Among her prized gems is a detailed portrait of Kevin, the reckless clown persona she created for 500 Clown, a troupe known for shredding classics to smithereens and mashing them back together through stunts and improv. The bruises-and-brains hooliganism of 500 Clown has left a mark beyond tattoos on Brennan, 38. “Injuries, I’ve had a few,” she says. “Three weeks ago, I decided to throw myself over a row of chairs and wound up with a contusion on my chin that bled internally and caused my foot to swell up, which ended up as bursitis in my knee. It’s like being an athlete. An old athlete,” she says.

Animal Crackers will be as demanding as any athletic fracas: Because the Professor doesn’t talk, his entire character is formed by movement. Brennan’s casting sparked a minor uproar on local theatre blogs, with more than a few posters proclaiming that a woman had no business playing Harpo Marx. Brennan shrugs. “My plan is, people will see this and walk away thinking, That was a great character—not, That was a girl playing a great character.”

After Harpo, Brennan leaps into a gender-traditional role: the Red Queen in Lookingglass Theatre’s beloved Lookingglass Alice. Her personal gallery already reflects the show. “I consider the rabbit my spirit animal,” Brennan says. “I’ve got several rabbit tattoos already.”


Photograph: Brian Kuhlmann

Stylist: Joslyn Beta Lawrence  Hair and Makeup: Nicole Cap For Nars At Artists By Timothy Priano  Photo Assistant: Jacob Hand