“The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”
Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays
Playwright Elizabeth Baker (1876-1962) grew up in a staunchly religious London household. Her father was a draper. Both experiences manifest in this piece. Though she broke free of family jurisprudence and worked, Baker didn’t go to so-called immoral theater until she was 30. She wrote 13 topical/realist plays featuring the lower middle classes; dramas about social non-conformism, romantic comedies, and satires. This is one of the former.
Andrew Fallaize, Emma Geer
Thomas Scott (Donald Corren) is a fervently religious General Draper with a failing shop. He and docile wife Ellen (Tracy Sallows) attend and participate in a local church at which he’s served as Deacon. Thoroughly puritanical, Thomas has prevented a local theater company from using the vestry hall and is against concerts, dancing, degenerate literature like Thomas Hardy and even his daughter’s apparel when not buttoned up to her neck.
The family includes two children chafing at the bit: Annie (Emma Geer) decorates hats she considers old fashioned, serves clients, and longs to apprentice in Paris returning au courant to make a splash. Younger brother Leonard (Nick LaMedica), apparently very bright, dreams of applying for a scholarship from which he might vault to Civil Service rather than the family business. Unless the shop is sold (it’s advertised), both their paths are likely to remain narrow.
Emma Geer, Nick LaMedica
When a former fellow draper makes what seems like an exorbitant offer on the property, it appears that everyone’s prayers will be granted, but joy and relief are short lived. The buyer for whom Wicksteed (Mitch Greenberg) works runs ballrooms (dance halls). On the one hand, with five hundred pounds, Mr. Scott would secure futures for his children and provide comfortable retirement for himself and the exhausted Ellen. On the other, could he live with the burden of conscience? Baker repeatedly differentiates between prejudice and conviction. Think about that.
Scott’s decision seems like the core of this play, but today, it’s Ellen and Annie’s respective reactions that most affect. That The Mint Theater never changes/updates its productions is very much to its credit. We’re able to observe social mores and beliefs through vastly different, sometimes surprising perspective. You’re likely to leave uncomfortable, but stimulated to discuss.
Also Featuring: Scott’s Lodger Johnny Tite (Andrew Fallaize, whose tightly wound/rabbity, hopeful persona is spot on) is besotted with Annie and hasn’t got a chance. His up-to-date friend Harley Peters (Josh Goulding) looks more promising – to us, but is so peripheral, there’s really no reason for the character = a red herring. Annie’s frequent companion May Rufford (Ayana Workman) also comes from a church family. Her father, George (Mark Kenneth Smaltz, aptly genial), however, represents a less rigid point of view. Client Lucy Griffin (Arielle Yoder) is a device to show what Annie must put up with. Tewkesbury (Jay Russell) is a neighbor. Large casts were apparently not a issue in the last century, but many of these people are thoroughly unnecessary.
Mitch Greenberg, Donald Corren
When Donald Corren’s Thomas Scott cheerily sings hymns around the house, one can’t help but find the otherwise infuriating character appealing. The actor offers a low key performance that deftly reflects internal suffering. A good balance.
Mitch Greenberg’s Wicksteed could casually sell you swampland he’s so sincere. We believe he’s sympathetic to, if puzzled by Scott. As Annie, Emma Geer seems a bit too restrained for events. We barely sense subjugated feelings.
Director Jonathan Bank recreates the melodrama as an audience might’ve seen it when first produced. His light touch allows us to form our own opinions. The stage is well used, small business effective, pacing adroit.
Vicki Davis’ Set captures time, economics, aesthetics and mood. Costumes by Hunter Kaczorowski are period perfect and work wonderfully together. Sound and Musical Arrangements by Jane Shaw are evocative and splendidly employed
Photos by Todd Cerveris
Opening: Tracy Sallows, Donald Corren, Emma Geer
The Price of Thomas Scott by Elizabeth Baker
Directed by Jonathan Bank
The Mint Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through March 23, 219