Advertisement

Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Mint Theater Company’

Oh, Brother!: Mint Theater’s ‘The Lucky One’

May 18th, 2017 Comments off

By Samuel L. Leiter

'The Lucky One' at Mint Theater Company. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

‘The Lucky One’ at Mint Theater Company. (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

By 1922, British writer A.A. Milne (1882-1956), soon to become world-famous for his Winnie the Pooh children’s stories, was already recognized as a promising, prolific playwright for adults. Between 1920 and 1922 Broadway saw four of his comedies of British manners, including The Truth about Blayds and Mr. Pim Passes By. Both were revived in 2004 by the Mint Theater Company, dedicated to “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten.”

That noble purpose explains the Mint’s exhumation of Milne’s The Lucky One, which certainly has been “lost or forgotten”; whether it’s “worthwhile” is debatable. Written in 1917 but unable to land a London showing, this dramedy about sibling rivalry premiered under the banner of New York’s then rising Theatre Guild. It opened on November 20, 1922, at the now vanished Garrick Theatre. The production, which had only 40 showings, was staged by famed Russian director Theodore Komisarjevsky, making his American debut.

Paton Ashbrook and Ari Brand in 'The Lucky One.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Paton Ashbrook and Ari Brand in ‘The Lucky One.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Arthur Hornblow in Theatre Magazine thought that “The piece is a job-lot of scene wrenched out of a Milne note-book and fastened together without much thought to the general picture.” The general opinion was that the play was middling and its weaknesses made worse by a miscast production.

With a few exceptions, the casting of the Mint’s production, efficiently directed by Jesse Marchese, is likewise problematic, as are the set and costumes. The three-act play, clumsy, old-fashioned, and dotted with unanswered plot questions, nevertheless contains enough lively dialogue and dramatic confrontations to make its two hours pass by entertainingly enough. It even contains a line concerning the sharing of secrets with a foreign power that will tickle your topical funnybone. Otherwise, Milne’s play can’t be described as an unfairly overlooked treasure.

Milne’s title points to Gerald, a Foreign Service officer and the younger brother of Bob (Ari Brand). Gerald’s the one everyone loves for his good looks, his sportsman’s abilities, his exceeding charm, and his superior intelligence. The unlucky sibling is “poor old Bob,” as others keep referring to him because he pales in the light of his brother’s accomplishments. Bob’s in love with the beautiful Pamela Carey (Paton Ashbrook); guess who her fiancé is.

Bob’s seething jealousy sits on him like a badly tailored suit; it becomes even more unflattering when the self-pitying fellow, a complete mismatch for his business career in the City (London’s Wall Street), goes to jail for three months after being implicated in his partner’s shady dealing. He continues to prate about his need for Pamela, who’s written in a way suggesting that maybe she really doesn’t love Gerald after all. At the end the brothers engage in a sharply honed climactic dialogue; when it’s over, you can take your pick as to which is the lucky brother.

Surrounding the fraternal squabbles are a familiar lot of drawing-room stereotypes. Best is veteran Cynthia Harris as the wise, aged great-aunt, Miss Farringdon, who has her doubts about Gerald. Paton Ashbrook is warmly affectionate as Pamela, although—it’s the script that’s to blame—she never convinced me such an intelligent woman would fall for either of the brothers.

Robert David Grant and Peggy J. Scott in 'The Lucky One.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Robert David Grant and Peggy J. Scott in ‘The Lucky One.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Wynn Harmon and Deanne Lorette as the doting parents, Sir James and Lady Farringdon, are suitably obtuse, while Michael Frederic is believably advisory as the family’s barrister friend, Henry Wentworth. In the comic relief roles of young, golf-obsessed Thomas Todd and his girlfriend Letty Herbert, Andrew Fallaize and Mia Hutchinson are stymied by their unfunny lines and business, but Peggy J. Scott is fine as Mason, a faithful maidservant.

Least lucky are Robert David Grant and Ari Brand as the Farringdon brothers. It’s hard to reconcile the superior qualities we keep hearing about Gerald with their existence in the person of Grant, whose vaunted charisma seems more like smugness. Poor old Bob, on the other hand, is portrayed as a single note of resentment in search of a maternal breast on which to suckle away his grievances.

Martha Hally’s costumes are attractive enough but those for the women, with their skirts nearly to the ground, seem more like 1917, when the play was written, than 1922, when it was produced. More awkward is Vicki R. Davis’s unit set, which needs to represent a country house in the first and third acts, and a London hotel room in the second.

Davis’s physically impressive design consists of a pair of sweeping staircases, backed by sheer curtains, with open risers and banisters made of conventional steel pipes. A large photo of two kids, presumably the brothers, dominates the upper level. None of it, though, has a period feeling.

Moreover, the only effort made to differentiate the locales is the change of flowers made by a stagehand in the drearily overlong scene-shift; otherwise, it takes some time before you realize the locale has moved from the country to the city.

Regardless of the relative success of The Lucky One, New York is fortunate to have the Mint providing several opportunities each season to evaluate neglected plays like this one. In that sense, we, the audience, are indeed the lucky ones.

The Lucky One
Beckett Theatre/Mint Theater Company
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through June 25

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Kiss, Fresh Courage: ‘Yours Unfaithfully’

February 3rd, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

 Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Miles Malleson (1888-1969), the British author of Yours Unfaithfully, the Mint Theater’s latest discovery of lost or forgotten plays deserving another look, was something of a Renaissance man. He made a distinctive mark as an actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright, while also being known for his then radical thinking on various social issues.

Although represented on this side of the pond as a director and actor on a small number of occasions (he staged the famous Old Vic production of The Critic starring Laurence Olivier in 1946), his plays seem never to have made it across. Yours Unfaithfully didn’t even make it to the London stage, and the Mint’s production is its well-deserved world premiere.

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: 'Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Mikaela Izquierdo in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: ‘Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Unfaithfully Yours, written in 1933, embodies certain autobiographical features of Malleson’s own unconventional life, marital and otherwise. It examines with intelligence and sensitivity, but few emotional fireworks, the ramifications of the once scandalous idea of open marriage, or, at least, the idea that married couples should, within reason and with mutual respect, be free to engage in extramarital canoodlings.

Two of its three acts are framed more or less in the style of a domestic high comedy, with fashionable, well-educated, highly articulate sophisticates of the cigarettes-and-cocktails class discussing serious issues much as in a discussion play by Shaw. But the laughs are few, the drinks are minimal, and the cigarettes non-existent.

Instead, the script’s appealing promise dissipates into talky artificiality, largely, I believe, because of its otherwise capable actors being out of their depth; instead of true Miles Malleson we get faux-Noël Coward. Malleson’s play should only receive another staging if it can find a cast (think anyone from Downton Abbey) that can carry off its English savoir faire and, most particularly, its accents. Here—despite one actor’s having studied at Oxford—they’re either strained, inconsistent, or invisible under director Jonathan Bank’s earnest but often uninspired direction.

Stephen (Max von Essen, too American) and Anne Meredith (Elisabeth Gray, elegant but forced) have been married for eight years; he’s a writer with controversial, advanced ideas, currently in a writing rut; the pair, who have two children (disturbingly unseen), have created a successful private school.

Stephen, with what appears to be the tacit approval of Anne, who once had her own fling and suggests the same might help spark his writing, begins an affair with Diane Streatfield (Mikaela Izquirdo, the sincerest performance); she’s a lonely widow whose husband died in a plane crash only a year earlier. A family friend, Dr. Alan Kirby (Todd Cerveris, bland), is the raisonneur to whom Stephen explains his motivations: “Fresh kiss, fresh courage.”

The plot thickens when Anne not only feels the green-eyed monster’s presence, but begins an affair of her own, with Stephen getting hoist by his own petard. This inspires director Banks’s finest contribution, when, with the expert lighting assistance of Xavier Pierce, he shows us Stephen’s sleepless night in a montage of silent moments as he waits for Anne to return to their pied à terre.

For further elucidation of the play’s moral compass, we have Stephen’s father, the Rev. Canon Gordon Meredith (Stephen Schnetzer, a late replacement), against whose socially conservative views Stephen argues for his own progressive ones.

Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray in 'Yours Unfaithfully.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Max von Essen and Elisabeth Gray in ‘Yours Unfaithfully.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The first two acts are set at the Merediths’ country home. Carolyn Mraz has designed a rather homely drawing room environment with clashing colors, ugly wallpaper, and ill-chosen paintings.

And Hunter Kaczorowski’s costumes seem an uncomfortable blend of period and not-so period; Stephen, for example, first appears in a tailored brown shirt and broad tie, with high-waisted, pale pants held up by broad suspenders, more like a zoot suiter of the 1940s than a writer-teacher of the early thirties.

But when, in Act Three, as period music chosen by sound designer Jane Shaw plays, we see the sleek Anne, in a black, floor-length sheath, against the bare walls of the pied à terre, the design elements click and, for the first time, a true 1930s impression is conveyed.

Yours Unfaithfully runs two-hours and five minutes, with two intermissions, but the first two acts could easily be joined with only a momentary break. Doing so would go a long way toward easing the tedium that gradually sets in, at least in this production whose casting is unfaithful to the play’s dramatic needs.

Yours Unfaithfully
Mint Theater at the Beckett Theater
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through February 18

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com). 

An Act of Beauty: ‘Women Without Men’

February 27th, 2016 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Emily Walton, Dee Pelletier, Aedin Moloney, and Kate Middleton in 'Women Without Men.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Emily Walton, Dee Pelletier, Aedin Moloney, and Kate Middleton in ‘Women Without Men.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

The Mint Theater Company, forced to leave its crowded nook on the third floor of a West 43rd Street office building, has reopened in the comfortable environs of City Center’s Stage II, where it continues its mission of rediscovering forgotten plays—generally from the first half of the 20th century—that deserve another hearing. In Women Without Men, an absorbing 1938 Irish play by a now largely unknown playwright, Hazel Ellis (who wrote only one other play), the Mint has found a worthy piece, originally produced by Dublin’s Gate Theatre but, surprisingly, never seen in New York.

Women without Men belongs to the genre of girls’ boarding school plays (Girls in Uniform, The Children’s Hour, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, etc.), this one set at a Protestant institution called Malyn Park Private School. All the action of the two-act, two hour and 10 minute-play transpires in the chilly teachers’ sitting room, with its coal fire providing more warmth than most of the characters can generate. The room, nicknamed by the students the “Tyrant’s Den,” is the school’s only relatively comfortable place—the bedrooms are freezing—to congregate and work, despite the lack of a wireless. The women’s close proximity, lack of male companionship, and demanding schedules have fostered an atmosphere of petty jealousy and selfishness expressed in constant squabbling.

Emily Walton, Aedin Moloney, and Kellie Overbey in 'Women Without Men.' (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Emily Walton, Aedin Moloney, and Kellie Overbey in ‘Women Without Men.’ (Photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Into this cloistered world of festering hostility (“small schools are worse” than big ones, someone says) comes a bright new face, Jean Wade (Emily Walton), a young teacher whose charm, spirit, and idealism gain the students’ love and her colleagues’ envy. The fact that she’s engaged to a man and need not, if she wishes, remain in this job if she chooses, gives her a degree of freedom the other women don’t have. (A program note tells us that the Irish Constitution prevented women from working after marriage.) Seeing the snake pit she’s stepped into, Jean does her best to introduce civility to her snarling coworkers.

Nastiest is Miss Connor (Kellie Overbey), a self-satisfied, 45-year-old, schoolmarm-ish disciplinarian who, after 20 years, is nearing completion of her “masterpiece,” a book about “beautiful acts” in history. There’s a palpable contrast, though, between her aesthetic beliefs and ugly behavior. The other women include the pretty Ruby Ridgeway (Kate Middleton), whose natural vivacity is rapidly turning sour, although she’s not averse to trying out new American dances; Mademoiselle Vernier (Dee Pelletier), the crabby French teacher; Miss Willoughby (Aedin Moloney), Ruby’s grumpy roommate; Miss Newcome (Joyce Cohen), the stern headmistress; Ma Hubbert (Amelia White), the school matron; and Marjorie Strong (Kate Bacon), the play’s raisonneur, who strives to remain above the fray, although she becomes Jean’s only friend. There are also three preadolescent students, one of whom, Peggy (Alexa Shae Niziak), plays an important role.

Following an incident that brings Miss Wade into Miss Connor’s line of fire, the latter discovers that her manuscript has been shredded; circumstantial evidence suggests the culprit is Jean, and, for a time, the play becomes a whodunit. The play’s ultimate purpose, however, is—through its own ironic act of beauty—to demonstrate the nature of nobility and the value of forgiveness. Even Miss Connor is granted a touch of humanity.

The play is anything but propaganda for the joys of private school teaching. Jean even calls it “a horrible beastly life.” And for all the play’s apparent veracity, it’s hard not to be skeptical about its resolution, when we’re asked to accept that these gossiping biddies will never spill the beans about a significant secret with which they’ve been entrusted.

Vicki R. Davis’s solidly realistic setting (more expansive than any the Mint’s former, low-ceilinged venue could provide); Martha Halley’s authentic-looking, period costumes; Traci Klainer Polimeni’s sensitive lighting, especially her use of the set’s many lamps; Jane Shaw’s sound design, making use of schoolgirl songs; and Robert-Charles Vallance’s well-styled wigs all make highly professional contributions. Under Jenn Thompson’s nicely paced direction, a fine ensemble invests this conventional, well-made play—in which humor, suspense, conflict, and sentiment share the stage—with continuing interest.

Hail to the Mint for Women Without Men, not least for resuscitating a work with so many juicy women’s roles, especially one without any men at all.

Women Without Men
City Center Stage II
131 West 55th Street, NYC
Through March 26

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).

Review: Fashions for Men

March 7th, 2015 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Annie Purcell, Kurt Rhoads, and Joe Delafield in "Fashions for Men" (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog).

Annie Purcell, Kurt Rhoads, and Joe Delafield in “Fashions for Men” (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog).

Although remembered today chiefly for Liliom, which had its Broadway premiere in 1921 and later became the source of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár (1878-1952) was once so popular on these shores that he had nearly a dozen plays on Broadway in the 1920s alone; there was even a musical, The Love Letter (1921), starring Fred and Adele Astaire, based on his The Phantom Rival. Today, apart from Liliom and The Play’s the Thing (1926), his plays are rarely revived.

Happily, the Mint Theater, devoted to the resurrection of deserving but forgotten plays, is giving us a chance to view Molnár’s Fashions for Men (Úri divat) which premiered in Budapest in 1917 and came to the Great White Way in 1922, where it ran for 89 performances. (A silent film version called Fine Clothes appeared in 1925.) Unhappily, as that low number suggests, it may not be the best choice to show off all that Molnár’s cracked up to be. Some contemporary critics, like Kenneth Macgowan, called it “a novel combination of continental sophistication and sentimental comedy, deft and amusing,” but others sided with Ludwig Lewisohn, who derided “its brittleness and inner factitiousness.”

Annie Purcell and Joe Delafield in "Fashions for Men" (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Annie Purcell and Joe Delafield in “Fashions for Men” (photo: Richard Termine via The Broadway Blog.)

Fashions for Men—in a nicely revised version of Benjamin Glazer’s 1922 translation by Mint artistic director Jonathan Bank, with assistance from Agnes Niemitz and Gábor Lukin—focuses on the tribulations of a saintly Budapest haberdashery store owner named Peter Juhasz (Joe Delafield). Peter’s the kind of easy mark who believes any sob story, and who lets customers extend their credit ad infinitum. In Act One, Peter’s wife, Adele (Annie Purcell), has fallen in love with the conniving salesman Oscar (John Tufts), to whom she has given all the money Peter entrusted her with over three years, so Oscar can go into business in Berlin. Despite the divorce and bankruptcy all this entails, Peter is totally forgiving.

All the while, the various machinations are observed by the old opera-loving salesman, Philip (Jeremy Lawrence), whose reactions serve as a sort of counterbalance to Peter’s overly charitable nature. Molnár, however, who might have made him something of a raisonneur, gives him few opportunities to do more than make cynical facial expressions at the goings-on.

In Act Two, with his shop placed in the hands of a receiver until he’s able to pay off his debts, Peter and his beautiful cashier, Paula (Rachel Napolean, who vaguely resembles Michelle Dockery—Lady Mary—of “Downton Abbey”), take employment in the castle of the wealthy, middle-aged Count (Kurt Rhoads), a generous soul who admires Peter’s humanity and makes him general manager of his cheese-making business; his prime objective, though, is Paula’s seduction. The cashier, for her part, is not unwilling, since her goal is to cash in on the Count’s sexual interest. Romantic complications ensue between Paula and Peter, but, eventually, the Count manages to get rid of Peter by reestablishing him in his Budapest shop.

In Act Three, we’re back in the now flourishing shop, where we learn what’s happened to Adele and Oscar. Soon, Paula—dressed to the nines—arrives, and, after a rather poorly developed reversal on her part, all comes to a foregone conclusion.

Largely because of the charmingly detailed art noveau-style shop designed by Daniel Zimmerman, chockfull of male and female clothing and accessories, and the period costumes designed by Martha Hally, the play emits a whiff of the Budapestian charm associated with The Shop around the Corner (based on a play by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo), the 1940 film starring James Stewart. Disappointingly, though, director Davis McCallum is unable to unify the two-hour and twenty-minute play’s disconcerting stylistic problems, which shift from quiet realism, to broad farce, to screwball sex comedy, and back to realism.

There are also serious issues of plausibility, especially in the depiction of Peter, whose character split the play’s original critics into pro and con, just as it’s doing today. I’m with the cons, since the guy’s goodliness is so extreme—especially in a ridiculously broad scene when he’s unable to fire a blatantly dishonest employee—that he seems a total fool. Being compassionate doesn’t mean you have to be an idiot about it. Perhaps what’s missing is a performance capable of making Peter believable. Joe Delafield, who seems too young for the role, brings little color or nuance to Peter, making his exaggerations that much more tangible. Calling Jimmy Stewart! Most of the other actors are unable to inhabit Molnar’s world with the proper style and conviction (Rhoads, Lawrence, and, occasionally, the thin-voiced Napolean, are exceptions). The result is simply not up to the best of the Mint’s previous work (as, for example, McCallum’s production last season of London Wall).

Despite my cavils, there’s nonetheless something stimulating about seeing this old play put back on the boards. It has a generally engaging plot, its characters and their intentions are clear and often amusing, and it reminds us of a bygone time and place. Its dramaturgy may no longer be in fashion, but Fashion for Men is still worth looking at.

Fashions for Men
Mint Theater
311 W. 43rd Street, NYC
Through March 29

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).