The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
Mint Theater Spring 2021
New York's Mint Theater continued its campaign of rediscovering lost early-twentieth-century plays with this 2016 premiere of Miles Malleson's unproduced 1933 comedy-drama.
It turns out to be a thought-provoking play of ideas built around characters who are self-aware enough to report on their thoughts and feelings, and intelligent and eloquent to express them cleverly and convincingly. It raises questions, holds your interest, and is even sometimes amusing.
What it doesn't do – despite excellent performances throughout – is make you care.
Stephen is a once-admired writer and social critic who has settled into comfortable schoolteaching – 'not promising any longer, just disappointing.' His loving wife Anne suggests that a love affair might perk up his spirits and creativity, and even selects the woman for him, an attractive young widow they know.
Stephen duly falls in love and runs off with the widow, and then Anne discovers to her surprise that she is jealous and unhappy. Several further plot twists, not all predictable, bring things to an ambiguous ending that might be labelled cautiously optimistic.
The playwright works hard to make sure there are no villains to the piece, not even John or the widow, even though the cast also includes Stephen's conservative clergyman father, eager to denounce anything and everything as sin, and a doctor friend who avoids judgment but issues frequent danger warnings.
Everybody in the play speaks well, so the various conversations are all well-presented and well-balanced (Even the disapproving father ie allowed to present his position impressively).
But Malleson is not Shaw, and however good the talk is, he lacks Shaw's ability to make the exchange of ideas theatrical. Even when characters are expressing unfamiliar or unwelcome emotions, it all remains just talk.
And, with a plot situation that might have come out of a Noel Coward comedy, Malleson doesn't share Coward's (and his characters') delight at thinking naughty thoughts or saying outrageous things. The play has the occasional aphorism or chuckle-inducing line, but there is very little joy – or, for all the talk of feelings, any other real emotion – on that stage.
None of this is any criticism of the excellent cast, though it might expose a limitation in director Jonathan Bank. Though the play repeatedly puts Stephen in the position of special pleading to justify his self-indulgence, Max Von Essen never lets him become comic or unsympathetic, while Elisabeth Gray fights to keep Anne from appearing too brittle or calculating.
Mikeala Izquierdo, Stephen Schnetzer and Todd Cerveris provide solid support.
The multi-camera recording of a live performance is excellent.
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