Chains – Habit and Society Hold Fast

1909 England. Lily Wilson (Laakan McHardy – a weak link in the cast) and her husband, Charley (Jeremy Beck, a reliable pleasure in many Mint productions), live ordinary, quiet lives. He’s a cog in business-regular hours, modest pay. She’s a prudent, satisfied housewife. Charley keeps a vegetable garden. Sometimes they ask neighbors in for Whist.

One night at dinner, their genial boarder, Fred Tennant (Peterson Townsend, low key and solid), announces he’s going to “hook it…the whole show…” i.e.  give up job and country to begin again, sight unseen, in “the colonies”- Australia. With no family and a little money saved, he’s seizing the opportunity to travel with a friend, departing in two days. You can feel the air shift. Lily is astonished and appalled. “You’d’ve been head clark in time!” she exclaims unable to fathom abandoning the familiar and secure. Charley is curiously silent.

Brian Owen (Morton Leslie) Olivia Gilliat (Maggie Massey), Peterson Townsend (Fred Tennant)

Lily’s visiting sister, Maggie Massey (Olivia Gilliatt – terrific), a liberated woman with no others in sight, not only understands and encourages Fred, but wishes she was a man and could go herself. Contradicting instinct, however, she’s succumbed to society’s assumptions by becoming affianced to nice, financially well fixed, Walter Foster (Ned Noyes), a man she doesn’t love and whose touch she can barely tolerate. The Wilson’s blowhard neighbor Morton Leslie (Brian Owen, a tad over the top) vociferously calls Fred an “ass,” placing short odds on failure and return.

Fred has unwittingly planted a beanstalk as rapid and sizable as Jack’s. Charley excitedly envisions himself striking out for a new, unregimented life, then sending for his wife. Wrestling with himself, he confides in his sister-in law, “…but Lily would think I was deserting her!” When his salary is cut, the bud flowers. Maggie has second thoughts about being tied to Walter.

Laakan McHardy (Lily Wilson), Olivia Gilliatt (Maggie Massey)

In contrast, we see the very young couple Percy Massey (Avery Whitted) and his giggly intended Sybil Frost (Claire Saunders) optimistically starting out, and parents Mr. and Mrs. Massey (Anthony Cochrane and Amelia White – pitch perfect) who have spent their lives making the best of things. “Do you expect work to be pleasant?!” Mrs. Massey blurts out. These four, representing status quo, also can’t understand Charley’s “irresponsible” ambitions. History is on their side.

Also featuring Christopher Gerson in a small, but eminently effective turn.

It’s easy to see why the piece was such a success. A shorthand clerk and typist, Elizabeth Baker’s first theatrical offering, cited “a problem play,” gave voice to a population trapped on hamster wheels by class, economic level and sex. Eleven plays followed.

Ned Noyes (Walter Foster), Anthony Cochrane (Alfred Massey), Amelia White (Mrs. Massey)

Director Jenn Thompson stages with an eye to composition as well as drama. Characters are always credibly occupied. Two particularly appreciated moments: When a party takes place just beyond curtaining, sounds underscore the important conversation downstage; when Lily gets briefly hysterical, she tears around the living room literally flailing, her husband in pursuit – grabbing, trying to rein her in/calm her down. Caveats: As Morton Leslie, Brian Owen should be tamped town. Slapstick sound effects when he climbs unseen over the back fence seem inappropriate to the tenor of the piece. Poking an empty fire grate is obvious.

John McDermott’s dollhouse-looking sets morph nicely between two homes with help from the actors. They’re neat and accurate, but a bulletin board-is it? at the Wilson’s home looks like something out of a Hallmark scrapbooking kit.

Costumes by David Toser subtly depict character and look aesthetically well together on  stage

Photos by Todd Cerveris

The MInt Theater presents
Chains by Elizabeth Baker
Directed by Jenn Thompson

Theatre Row 
410 West 42nd Street                                           
Through July, 23, 2022

About Alix Cohen (1401 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.