Days to Come played at The Mint Theater in October, 2018. Below is Alix Cohen’s review. The play is now available to stream through February 21. Click to go to the theater’s website to view.
Offering obscure/forgotten plays that broaden perspective – regardless of original reception, The Mint Theater takes risks. Sometimes these pan out beautifully. Recent presentations of work by Irish dramatist Teresa Deevy, for example, were revelatory in terms of writing and forward thinking as well as being smart and entertaining. Unfortunately, this Lillian Hellman play has multiple issues, innate and current.
Days to Come debuted on Broadway in 1936, running a mere seven performances. Left-wing critics chided Hellman for not taking sides. (Factory owners and union organizers are both observed/judged evenly, while importing strike-breakers illustrates how events beyond the understanding of those who set them in motion grow quickly out of control.) Mainstream journalists felt the playwright “…cited too many ideas, too much plot, and too much mixing of genres.” (Dramaturge Maya Cantu)
Larry Bull and Janie Brookshire
The apparently copiously researched plot found its inspiration in Ohio’s Wooster Brush Company, then run by an owner’s four grandsons. It focuses on a management family and labor disputes complicated by tradition and loyalty. No one gets off scott free. Keen observation of human fallibility, however, is not responsible for sinking the story which does, in fact, try to cover too much territory with conflicting approaches.
We have, in part, a family at war with itself, the search for purpose, infidelity, owners against workers, a model of the clueless rich, and issues of conscience and ethics. Add to this a group of hired thugs that would fit into a Damon Runyon story or a chapter of The Thin Man.
Mary Bacon and Ted Deasy
Gentle, naïve Andrew Rodman (Larry Bull) runs the business his father founded with best intentions. The manse of which he’s ostensibly master is also occupied by attractive wife Julie (Janie Brookshire) who seems to have married for security and lives in restless, independent pursuit of meaning and Andrew’s irascible sister Cora (Mary Bacon), an oblivious prig. Watchful housekeeper/village denizen Hannah (Kim Martin-Cotton) and maid Lucy (Betsy Hogg) cook and dust.
At a loss how to handle a factory walk-out, Andrew bows to pressure from his slick lawyer Henry (Ted Deasy) importing Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily) and cohorts to – help. He actually believes they’ve arrived to temporarily fill jobs (?!), while in fact, Wilkie’s goons mean to break the strike by any means deemed effective. Hooligans Joe Easter (Evan Zes) and Mossie Dowel (Geoffrey Allen Murphy) are left at the house in order to protect the Rodmans. Both characters are written and directed as if they wandered in from a different show.
Roderick Hill and Janie Brookshire
Rounding out the cast are Tom Firth (Chris Henry Coffey) who represents trusting townspeople/employees and Leo Whalen (Roderick Hill), an experienced union organizer whom Julie sees as a romantic figure. It’s to Hellman’s credit that she didn’t write him as such. Only Whalen and, at last, Andrew offer glimpses of distinctive character.
While Hellman’s attempts at fairly depicting sociological deadlock are worthy, she seems to understand neither faction sufficiently for good drama. Too many tangential stories peek in and withdraw. It doesn’t help that Director J.R. Sullivan offers jerky and/or turgid transitions. Nothing on stage comes alive for more than minutes at a time.
Ted Deasy, Dan Daily, Geoffrey Allen Murphy, Evan Zes
Of the cast, standouts are Mary Bacon as Cora – really, one wants to throttle the character – and, at the end, Larry Bull’s Andrew Rodman (characterization is so low key before, he practically disappears). Also, Ted Deasy as Henry Ellicot (excepting hands in pockets at a decisive juncture), and Roderick Hill’s Leo Whalen in a two-hander with Julie are credible.
Harry Feiner’s sets are well conceived and executed. Color coordination of trees we see through the picture window and the Rodman’s décor, however, is a bit Hallmark.
Costumes by Andrea Varga flatter men and uglify women. Jane Shaw’s sound design offers just right music of the times and evocative, distant violence.
I support The Mint’s mission, but not this production.
Photos by Todd Cerveris
Opening: Ted Deasy, Roderick Hill, Larry Bull, Chris Henry Coffey
Mint Theater Company presents
Days to Come by Lillian Hellman
Directed by J.R.Sullivan
Theatre Row, The Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through October 6, 2018