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*The title’s double entendre refers both to social awakening in the Lancashire town of Hindle and to “Wakes Week,” the seven to ten days when mills and factories would shut down for workers’ vacations.
It’s 1912. Mill worker Christopher Hawthorn (Ken Marks) and his wife (Sandra Shipley) lie in wait for their daughter, Fanny, (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley) to return from holiday in order to confront her. They’re fairly sure the seemingly “good girl” has spent her weekend with a man.
Jeremy Beck and Jonathan Hogan
Mrs. Hawthorn vibrates with fury. How dare her daughter ruin chances for a decent marriage, not to mention the family’s reputation! Actress Sandra Shipley emits the unusual syntax as if born to it. We’re immediately able to guage community values. Vehemence is palpable. Fanny’s father is – tempered. Though the strong-willed, unrepentant young woman at first denies it, truth is revealed through a bizarre coincidence.
The “cad” in question is Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), son of mill owner Nathanial Jeffcote (Jonathan Hogan) and his wife (Jill Tanner). Nat and Chris (as they refer to each other) rose together from poverty. Despite vast social and economic difference, they remain good friends. Still, status prevents a relationship between the young people. Further exacerbating circumstances, Alan is engaged to Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer), a union that would further both families.
Jonathan Hogan and Brian Reddy
Chris is nagged up the hill by his wife to address what happened with the boy’s father and secure a promise of marriage. Appalled, Nat vows to “see that she’s (Fanny) treated right.” Plans for his own legacy and that of the business seem dashed by the unfortunate liaison. “Why hadn’t thou the sense to pay for your pleasures?!” he demands when the boy returns home. (You’ll get accustomed to the dialect.) Mrs. Jeffcote puts the blame on Fanny, whom she believes should be paid off. Upward mobility changes people.
Jeremy Beck is thoroughly credible as the egotistical, obtuse young scion. He protests, but doesn’t over dramatize and is perceptibly shocked when things don’t turn out as assumed. Rebecca Noelle Brinkley seems vague in Act I and then sullen, but comes into her own when Fanny finally speaks her mind.
Jeremy Beck and Emma Geer; Rebecca Noelle Brinkley, Jill Tanner, Jonathan Hogan
Jonathan Hogan’s Nathanial is one of the great pleasures of this production. Integrity is not unduly stiff. Nuanced expression and response (he listens) make him compelling. When Mrs. Jeffcote insists Alan didn’t get his proclivity from her side of the family, Nat wryly responds, in pitch perfect tone, “Adam. He got it from Adam.”
The Jeffcots inform Alan’s fiancé and her father, Sir Timothy (Brian Reddy who adds appealing emotional color), and then deal with the Hawthorns. Alan responds to threats. He and Beatrice have surprisingly opposite opinions about what must occur, as, it turns out to everyone’s shock, do Alan and Fanny.
Emma Geer, Brian Reddy, Jill Tanner, Jeremy Beck, Jonathan Hogan
Stanley Houghton’s 1912 play skewers its era’s social mores without proselytizing or cliché psychology. Characters are decidedly multidimensional. Humor and irony arrive impactful as well as entertaining. We utterly believe these people as written and played and are drawn in to what might be hackneyed, but turns out intriguing. A good looking, worthy production of work you’d otherwise never see.
Also featuring Jill Tanner’s realistic Mrs. Jeffcote, Emma Geer, in the role of insightful, if custom-bound Beatrice, Ken Marks’ understated, viscerally pained Christopher Hawthorn, and a self conscious Sara Carolynn Kennedy as Ada, the maid.
Rebecca Noelle Brinkley and Jeremy Beck
Director Gus Kaikkoen astutely defines his characters. There’s some splendid small stage business-like when Fanny wistfully, almost absently fingers the Jeffcote’s fancy tablecloth at a pivotal juncture. Where each person sits when trying to agree on action signals stature and attitude. A sudden, passionate clinch reads real rather than stagey. Detail includes a lovely whoosh when the gas chandelier goes on. Well crafted.
Dialects (Amy Stoller) are for the most part as crisp and natural as they are iconoclastic.
Charles Morgan’s Sets feature ornate, iron ceiling work and rooms framed in dark wood which keep visuals from being heavy while establishing solidity. Change from mill cottage to that of gentry is well executed. Costumes (Sam Fleming) are personal to character, displaying status and taste. Gerard Kelly’s Hair and Wigs credibly flatter. Lighting Design by Christian DeAngelis subtly makes the most of shadow.
Photos Courtesy of Mint Theatre Opening: Sandra Shipley, Rebecca Noelle Brinkley, Ken Marks
Mint Theater Company presents Hindle Wakes by Stanley Houghton Directed by Gus Kaikkonen Theatre Row, The Clurman Theatre 410 West 42nd Street
Though time and place are undetermined, we’re on familiar terrain. The shack is poor by any standard: a basin serves as sink, there’s no apparent toilet, patched fabric curtains create rooms, one old table, two chairs, and a cabinet act as kitchen/living room/dining room. There’s a bucket to hold baby’s waste before it’s dumped and a bucket to keep bread from the mice. Designer Wilson Chin’s rough, cutaway structure with evocative staging levels feels viscerally bleak. (A hole in the floor creating the grave out of which Baylen shovels dirt and rocks and a long ramp evoking a hill, work splendidly.)
Ted Koch and KK Moggie
When Baylen (Ted Koch), a grave digger, comes home late, his wife Margot (KK Mogie) gets out of bed to serve him cold stew. Face almost in the bowl, he reaches for her. She pulls away, telling Baylen he’s filthy. He says she smells like wash on the line. They’re direct, a bit harsh, but devoted to one another. Then the baby wakes and wails. Stress comes to a nightly head. The couple argue. Daily existence is a struggle.
Gizzer (Todd Lawson) is also grave digger. He and Baylen eat lunch together, feet dangling into a newly dug site. One infers Baylen got his junior the job. Gizzer regularly engages in the kind of let-off-steam bar fights necessary to his volatile nature and complains for lack of his friend’s company.
Ted Koch and Todd Lawson
One day, a well heeled young man in suit and hat appears in the cemetery. Gizzer is immediately hostile and, vocally disparaging, ignores his request for directions. Baylen doesn’t understand. It turns out the stranger is Charles Timmons (Jeremy Beck) son of the ailing owner of The Merck, whom Gizzer holds responsible for his father’s death on the loading dock. (The company did nothing to help the large family robbed of its breadwinner.) It’s all Baylen can do to keep his friend from physical attack.. With even temper and perspective, he points Timmons on his corrected way, inadvertently intriguing him. The die is cast.
Jeremy Back and Ted Koch
Margot and Baylen can’t make ends meet. He insists on managing things and demeans himself to try to secure a somewhat better, but compromising situation. Gizzer will hate it.
Playwright Jeff Talbot’s character portraits are terrific. Baylen’s pride and religious faith, Timmons’ raging ambivalence about class differences and need of a sympathetic father figure, Margot’s striking, clear-eyed love and wonderfully clever methods of communicating with her husband, and Gizzer’s well aimed tirades are well written, beautifully manifest specifics that keep the stereotypical at bay.
More than once we expect someone to be violently murdered. The Grave Digger’s Lullaby features pain, sacrifice, determination and commitment under grim, untenable circumstances, yet its overriding message is one of the persistence of human spirit.
KK Moggie and Ted Koch
Ted Koch’s powerful portrayal of Baylen, wrestling with a seemingly hopeless situation, excavates feeling from the actor’s gut making every action personal. Anguish, resolution, and a single moment of joy, all seem authentic. We empathize rather than sympathize.
Todd Lawson’s Gizzard shocks with the extent of hate transparently coursing through the character’s system. He lashes out with utter honesty.
Jeremy Back internalizes Timmon’s thoughts so thoroughly, he vibrates.
KK Moggie imbues her Margot with innate intelligence, grace and forbearance.
Director Jenn Thompson does a marvelous job of defining her characters, right down to the way they carry themselves. Unplaceable southern accents are pitch perfect. Anger vibrates, a sex scene is coarse and sizzling, an entirely believable, rough and tumble fight makes one imagine nightly bruises. Actors take time to think and react. Horrible realizations are made palpable. Pacing of this intermissionless piece is just right.
Will Van Dyke contributes fine, dark, particularly atmospheric music.
Matthew Richards Lighting Design is cinematic.
Photos by Marielle Sloan Opening: Ted Koch and Todd Lawson
TACT – The Actors Company Theatre presents The Grave Diggers’s Lullaby by Jeff Talbott Directed by Jenn Thompson Through April 1, 2017 The Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street
Playwright Oliver Goldsmith overcame ugliness, lack of breeding, and alcoholic behavior (or sidestepped it) to become a successful writer for the 18th Century stage. Eschewing the then popular “sentimental, i.e. high-minded comedy,” Goldsmith added laughter and impropriety to the mix.
The TACT Company offers a lighthearted rendition of this classic replete with some genial audience contact between acts, occasional dissolution of the fourth wall, a couple of rousing tavern songs, and cleverly inclusive use of the entire theater, not just the stage. It’s fun.
John Rothman and Cynthia Darlow
Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (the appealing John Rothman and Cynthia Darlow, whom one could drop into Masterpiece Theater tomorrow) live on an estate outside of London. While he’s content to oversee land, she longs for the city or at least some diversion. The couple are parents to lazy, spendthrift, dissipated son, Tony (Richard Thierot, who never gels as a character) whom his mother worships and his stepfather disdains, and well bred daughter Kate (the too contemporary Mairin Lee, whose attempt at a barmaid’s accent is patently false ), just coming of age.
In an effort to find Kate a suitable husband, Mr. Hardcastle has invited his friend’s pedigreed, scholar son, Charles Marlow (Jeremy Beck) to the house so that the young people can be introduced. Charles has something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He’s a polished Lothario with lower class women but so tongue-tied in the face of a lady, the young man can’t bear to raise his eyes. Traveling with Charles is his BFF George Hastings (the completely credible, seemingly upper class Tony Roach), who has come to the area in hopes of convincing Mrs. Hardcastle’s niece, Constance Neville (an irritatingly affected Justine Salata), to elope. (She lives with the family.)
Jeremy Beck, Tony Roach, Richard Thierot
When Tony tricks the suitors into thinking Hardcastle’s home is an inn, presumptions create a house of cards, ripe for knockdown. Selectively kept secrets and additional trickery compound events as both pairs attempt to, well, couple.
The find here is Jeremy Beck (Charles Marlow). This actor delivers a whole person, from believable difference in his approach to feminine mystique – when he literally shakes with fear, one feels empathetic rather than critical of technique, while seduction scenes are elegant- to eventually sincere ardor; from the character’s arrogant, patrician behavior to shame and defeat. Beck is the real deal.
Cynthia Darlow and Richard Thierlot
Scott Alan Evans’s adaptation is smart, witty, and economic. His direction, especially use of the aisles, arrives lively and well mannered. Accents, however, are all over the place.
While Brett Banakis’s minimal set design works admirably to create atmosphere, Tracy Christensen’s costumes are wrongheaded. That some characters wear a semblance of complete period ensembles and others mix jeans and a plaid shirt with lace sewn at the cuffs serves well enough. There is, however, no viable reason why the young women should not be wearing long skirts like Mrs. Hardcastle. Elastic and fabric can be cheap. High, modern heels are also jarring as is the use of a kitchen apron.
Also featuring James Prendergast as Sir Charles Marlow, Charles’ father, and the Landlord.
Photos by Marielle Solan
Opening: Tony Roach, Jeremy Beck, Justine Salata, Mairin Lee
People who live in glass houses have no right to throw stones. But, on my honor, I never knew that my house was a glass one until you pointed it out. Dr. Harry Trench (in the play)
Having just finished his medical boards, young Dr. Harry Trench (Jeremy Beck) is traveling abroad with his somewhat older friend, the flamboyant, yet rather proper William De Burgh Cokane, aka Billy (Jonathan Hadley). On the boat to Remagen on the Rhine and again at a hotel, they meet gentleman/businessman Sartorious (Terry Layman) and his pretty daughter Blanche (Talene Monahon). For the benefit of her father, Billy loudly extols Harry’s eligibility as a well born (if not wealthy) husband with great prospects.
Jonathan Hadley and Jeremy Beck
We quickly learn that the couple has already connected and that the café encounter is a set up. Harry is smitten. Blanche is not only willing, but immediately takes a Machiavellian lead. Her father, who knows more than he lets on, is in favor, but stipulates that the suitor’s family must first prove welcoming. Letters are sent and received.
Talene Monahon and Jeremy Beck
Back in London, Harry and his wingman arrive at Sartorious’s home to formalize the liaison. Here, they accidently meet the gentleman’s abused rent collector/building manager Lickcheese (John Plumpis), who, having just been fired for trying to keep his boss’s tenements in necessary repair, pleads his case before the two strangers. Sartorious, it seems, is a slum landlord of the worst, most greedy and unfeeling kind.
Harry is appalled. Unwilling to give up his suit and without telling her what he’s learned, he insists that Blanche and he live on his modest income rather than accepting substantial funds from her father. Accustomed to the best, she refuses, assuming her intended is using the precondition as an excuse to break off their engagement. To say she goes ballistic is putting it mildly. Sartorious’s explanation to Harry (and a more pragmatic Billy) is blatantly class prejudiced, indifferent, and, as Shaw presents it, realistic.
Jonathan Hadley and John Plumpis
When the clever Lickcheese’s fortunes change, he returns to offer a deal to the other three men. Harry discovers he’s unwittingly tied to Sartorious’s real estate empire and must decide whether to join what is a legal but, at root, morally reprehensible scheme, accepting a tainted income. Blanche would come with the package. We learn part of his decision.
The quandary is easily updated to decisions made by contemporary businessmen every day.
This is George Bernard Shaw’s first produced play (1892), but already shows great facility with characterization, language, exploration of the battle of the sexes, and abiding interest in social issues and politics. It’s both entertaining and intriguing.
Jeremy Beck, Talene Monahon, Jonathan Hadley, Terry Layman, John Plumpis, Hanna Creek
The most compelling actors on stage are Jonathan Hadley as William De Burgh Cockane and John Plumpis as Lickcheese. Hadley manages to walk a fine line between over the top and pitch perfect exaggeration, his every phrase and gesture expressing a wholly developed persona. When not actively attempting to draw attention, Billy is nonetheless visibly preparing; when he’s admonished, he elegantly sulks. Plumpis (who looks startlingly like Charles Chaplin), offers first a desperate toady and then a cheeky arriviste, each incarnation with its own set of viable emotions and mannerisms, both completely real. An excellent Cockney accent illuminates.
Talene Monahon (Blanche) works strictly from the surface at all times and is feasible only at the very start of the play. Jeremy Beck’s (Harry) switches from excessive, youthful exuberance to newfound gravitas without visible evolution.
As the Founding Artistic Director of Gingold Theatrical Group, Director David Staller lives and breathes George Bernard Shaw. Much of this production therefore feels authentic. In particular, Billy (William), though florid, appears to be at the same time, of the period, amusing, and irritating and Lickcheese’s change of station is adroitly reflected in his manner.
I have a rather large caveat, however: Blanche is portrayed as so unnecessarily vitriolic/histrionic, it’s impossible to believe Harry would even consider the relationship. Fury can be depicted without hitting, screaming, and flailing. This woman is supposed to be insidiously controlling, not an obvious harridan. Where is her place in the choice around which the play revolves if she’s not for a moment a credible option?
Set Design by Brian Prather is clever, spare and elegant.
Barbara A. Bell’s Costume Design is flattering and evocative, but Blanche’s parading around her home in copious jewelry – including a tiara – is ludicrous.
Photos by Marielle Solan Opening: Jeremy Beck
TACT and The Gingold Theatrical Group present Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw Directed by David Staller The Beckett Theatre 410 West 42nd Street Though April 2, 2016