By the 1870s, almost half of England’s coal was mined in Derbyshire. While owners reaped profits, conditions for colliers (miners) were horrific. Often men toiled 13 to 16 hours with 12 hours remaining the average. Work was unremittingly hot, close, debilitating and dangerous. The Daughter-in-Law is set in Eastwood where author/ playwright D.H. Lawrence was born and raised. Miners are on the verge of a strike.
Strong-minded, widowed Mrs. Gascoyne (Sandra Shipley) has raised six devoted sons. Her youngest, Joe (Ciaran Bowling), in his late 20s, still lives at home. The next up, Luther (Tom Coiner), a newlywed of barely two months, has a house in the area. (Both are miners.) The matriarch has been against her new daughter-in-law since before the wedding. Minnie (Amy Blackman) is better educated than Luther and financially secure. She put off, “dangled” him three years. Luther’s mother is resentful of what she perceives as uppity ways. “Marriage,” Mrs. Gascoyne snaps, “is like a mousetrap until you come to the end of the cheese.” The women are estranged.
Luther (Tom Coiner) and Joe (Ciaran Bowling)
Nor are things running smoothly at Luther’s well appointed home. He’s hyper-conscious of not being of Minnie’s class while she’s continually frustrated with trying to raise up a passive man, more or less satisfied with his lot. They fight. Direction shows Minnie enamored of her husband despite being critical. We see next to no affection from Luther who presumably because he always feels on the defense. Direction makes him sullen. Did he marry for the income, as a path of least resistance? What was Minnie’s motivation?
The turning point in Lawrence’s play comes with neighbor Mrs. Purdy’s (Polly Mckie) announcement that her daughter Bertha is pregnant with Luther’s baby. (He’s unaware.) The incident can be kept quiet – for the benefit of all involved in the small community – but support money should be forthcoming. Mrs. Gascoyne pushes her neighbor to confront Luther in front of his wife. Joe objects, volunteering to quietly raise funds. Everything comes out of course and fireworks ensue. Luthe questions his marriage, comparing expectations of Bertha and Minnie. His wife blames weakness and lassitude on Mrs. Gascoyne’s treating her son like a child, creating dependence.
Mrs. Gascoyne (Sandra Shipley)
The piece is extremely wordy. While nineteenth century melodramas were often long and pithy, others pack content with incident. Lawrence’s piece is buried in dialogue. Act I is exhausting. We never learn why Minnie holds onto Luther or why he stays. A desperate and unexpected gesture by Minnie and revelation from Joe add interest to Act II. Apparent turn-around by Mrs. Gascoyne arrives without convincing reason. The play is perplexing.
Acting is top notch with Ciaran Bowling’s Joe and Sandra Shipley’s Mrs. Gascoyne stand-outs. Dialects (Amy Stoller) sound precise.
Martin Platt’s direction works well except with Minnie. Constantly vacillating attitude and perpetual smile make her seem mentally unbalanced, undoubtedly not what the playwright intended.
Luther (Tom Coiner) and Minnie (Amy Blackman)
A set by Bill Clarke aptly conjures the two residences. Original music and sound (splendid rhythmic noise of breaking coal) by Lindsay Jones is strikingly evocative.
While one can only admire Mint Theater’s dedication to authenticity and production excellence, selecting a play with the difficult-to-understand East Midlands dialect “llson,” peppered with terms that require a program dictionary, creates comprehension handicaps.
Photos by Maria Baranova
Opening: Minnie (Amy Blackman), Mrs. Gascoyne (Sandra Shipley), Luther (Tom Coiner)
The Daughter-in-Law was completed in 1913, but neither published nor staged in DH Lawrence’s lifetime. Its first public outing was a 1967 London production.
The Mint Theater first mounted the play in 2003
Mint Theater Company presents
The Daughter-in-Law by D.H. Lawrence
Directed by Martin Platt
City Center Stage II
131 West 55th Street
Through March 20, 2022