Jonathan Bank at the Mint Theatre continues to unbury bits and pieces of our theatrical heritage as he continues his successful leadership off this unique off Broadway company.
Some of his revivals are from the likes of Ernest Hemingway, A.A.Milne, Dawn Powell and other familiar names. Most are of plays that had once caught the public fancy either in London or New York, sometimes both, plays that have been gathering dust on library shelves. He seems to prefer comedies of manner, plays that illuminate the life and times of their periods, with a bent to the early twentieth century.
He doesn’t bring us popular commercial successes known to some of us still living, the sort of material more favored by the Roundabout and TACT (the Actors’ Company Theatre). He is more in to the likes of Martha Gelhorn’s Love Goes to Press, Dawn Powell’s Walking Down Broadway, Rose Franken’s Soldier’s Wife, Teresa Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan. He begins this season with Allan Monkhouse’s Mary Broome.
The play contains eleven characters, members of the families of Mary Broome, a parlor maid working in the home of Leonard Timbrell, a dilettante who lives with his parents, and his unmarried sister. His older brother Edgar and his wife Sheila are constant visitors, and the play includes Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton, friends of the Timbrell family. Leonard’s brief affair with Mary Broome is at the center of the play, for it leads to Mary’s pregnancy, which in 1912 England would have created a major scandal. It had to be contained, and with an uncaring Leonard and a defiant Mary, every viewpoint on this situation is explored in Monkhouse’s fair depiction of Edwardian standards, shifting as World War I approaches, as though everyone suspected the old values were crumbling, and would soon take a giant step backwards.
Mr. Bank has acquired a first rate company of actors to bring to life some eleven characters, Roderick Hill and Janie Brookshire give us a beautifully accented and subtly played Leonard and Mary. Kristin Griffith, always an interesting actress, brings dignity and intelligence to the Timbrell matriarch, who is caught between her ability to see and understand her favorite son’s inadequacies and the Edwardian wife role society demands that she play, in which she always must submit to her husband’s dogmatic and demanding ways. Ms. Griffith keeps Mrs. Trimbell alive even during long stretches of the first act in which she is asked to listen far more often than to take center stage. Later, when she has her moment, she is luminous.
Graeme Malcolm convinces us he really believes it is Father’s role to rule his family. He seems to have accomplished his aim with his older son Edgar and with his unmarried daughter Ada but he’s found a worthy adversary in his younger son Leonard.
Peter Cormican (a recent addition to the cast) has already found interesting ways to play both Mr. Pendleton, a dinner guest at the Timbrells in the first half of the play, and Mary Broome’s father in the second half. He is joined in this by Jill Tanner, who plays his wife in each section. A nice challenge for actors, to play two people from two distinct social classes in one play in one evening. It’s a challenge they both meet beautifully. Patricia Kilgarriff brings spark and conviction to Mrs. Greaves, one of those feisty Irish landladies, who ain’t takin’ no lip from no one.
We owe Jonathan Banks a ‘thank you’ for giving such red blooded life to these long forgotten plays that let us see what it was that stimulated audiences that have long preceded us. This is no summer stock revival, in which everything is tarnished and built not to last. It’s extraordinary how polished a production he manages on what must be a limited budget, for his theatre accommodates only about 100 people, his backstage quarters are extremely limited, yet his productions look like they were mounted by the likes of the Theatre Guild in olden days.
Credit goes too to Roger Hanna, Martha Hally and Nicole Pearce for a set, costumes and lighting that look like a million. “Mary Broome” as a character is right up there with Major Barbara, Nora Helmer (Ibsen’s “doll”) and all the other New Women who were not going to settle for second class citizenship.
Allan Monkhouse, who spent almost 50 years observing life before he began to capture elements of it in plays, here shows us that his time was well spent. In 1924 he came up with a play (The Conquering Hero) in which attitudes in England about World War I were examined, and the play proved very controversial. I’d love to see the Mint tackle that one next year. Meanwhile, Mary Broome should find a warm welcome on 43rd Street, where she is now in residence.
Mary Broome is running thru Oct 14, 2012 at the Mint Theatre, 311 West 43rd Stree, .New York, NY 10036.
Details and tickets